A sustainable transit plan for Austin – outline and introduction

If this is sufficiently well-received I may fill in more later.

This post is in response to a request from Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an organization of which I am a member, for some transit talk leading up to a position / plan from them. My key elements follow, in outline form, with links to old writing where feasible. I expressed my concerns that this would be a waste of time due to the alliance of FAN with AURA and Evolve Austin but was assured this was not an issue, so here we go.

Above all else, be skeptical of Capital Metro

Cap Metro’s record for honesty is bad and not improving. Lately, they mislead people about Connections 2025 (selling it as a “ridership over coverage” redesign, but in reality, it’s cutting service to our densest areas and rebalancing towards more suburban service). Under this we have details like conflating Rapid Bus with local service; using 1/2 mile or larger catchment zones when 1/4 mile is the industry standard, etc. Project Connect 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster due to a lack of honesty about constraints and aims by the people leading it, and they have never been held to account for it. We will not make any real progress for transit in Austin until these agencies act with transparency and honesty. FAN should demand better governance of, and leadership at, Capital Metro. My basic recommendation would be that board members need to at least ride transit sometimes and have a deep fundamental understanding of what actually raises and lowers transit ridership; and top leadership must be honest and ethical. Neither of those standards is met today by any board members or anyone in top leadership of the agency.

Background:

Watch the diversion of service dollars to the suburbs

Even AURA is on board with the Red Line being a bad investment, and I-35 BRT being a horrible idea. But that’s not where it ends.

The service just introduced for Round Rock is a horrible deal. Cap Metro is being misleading about it being a “contracted service”. Round Rock doesn’t pay overhead that supports Cap Metro’s structure in general, and their passengers can continue onto mainline routes despite not having paid taxes to support them. They’re getting a sweetheart deal in return for not paying into the system. This is bad for Austin.

Likewise, park and rides placed near the edge of the city limits or the edge of the service area are obviously going to tend to attract patrons from jurisdictions that don’t pay to support the agency. While you might want to supply them with transit anyways, this is a zero-sum game or worse. Every $25 operating subsidy paid so somebody from Cedar Park can ride the train despite not paying taxes to support it results in 5-10 Austinites not getting to ride a bus that their city did pay taxes to support.

We should not be subsidizing the suburbs’ road network and also subsidizing their transit. If we don’t get to cut one, cutting the other is not only good but necessary. Again, in Austin, transit is a zero-sum game; we have no ability to increase operating funds, so every dollar we blow on somebody in Cedar Park is taken away from a prospective rider in Austin. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods should be about supporting Austin’s interests first against so-called predatory regionalism.

Background:

Specifically watch for land use claims that fall apart under scrutiny

In 2014, I made this warning about Rapid Bus: Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service.

We were told continuously by people more credulous than I that Rapid Bus was a great deal. I went to a lot of trouble to show that its benefits accrue disproportionately to those who live the furthest out, while those who live close in suffered service degradation.

The Panglosses kept at it, assuring us that infill stops would be added any day now. It’s now looking like 2018 or later for two infill stops, and even with those infill stops, Hyde Park will still have worse service than it did in 2011. Connections 2025 will make it even worse than that!

Rapid Bus is also a suburban subsidy although it’s more of a subsidy to the worst land use INSIDE Austin (i.e. low-density sprawl inside far north and far south Austin gets better service now, by speed, than does Hyde Park). AURA hasn’t opposed Rapid Bus primarily because their president lives close to an 803 stop and saw personal benefit from the service change that screwed thousands of others. I think FAN needs to be more honest and transparent than that, and hope you agree.

Watch out for things that don’t pass the BS test

Don’t ask a transit rider if the grid redesign’s requirement to add transfers will increase or reduce ridership. They have no idea; they’re already riding. Ask somebody who has a long history of being right about service changes’ impact on ridership. Ask somebody who is transit-positive but has to drive to work.

The fact is that the Connections 2025 redesign cuts local service even further for the areas of Austin with some of the highest modeshare, and yet, Evolve Austin and AURA have bought into the Big Lie from Capital Metro. I shouldn’t have to keep explaining this, but in 2011, you could pick up a #1 on Guadalupe in Hyde Park every 10-12 minutes during peak and a #101 every 20 minutes or so. Now there is a local every 30 minutes, and the distance to walk to ‘rapid’ (fancy 101) is too long to make up for the increased frequency. Actual riders are worse off today; and yet Connections 2025 proposed making that even worse under the guise of improving things. (Eliminating local service on Speedway, and originally proposing eliminating the remaining locals on Guadalupe too!)

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods generally promotes urbanist ideals. Having a transit agency which cuts service to the areas that buy into urbanism inevitably leads to pushback in the future for land-use changes as people become justifiably skeptical that new residents of infill developments will use transit at non-trivial levels.

If you say you want ridership over coverage, be serious about it

Ridership, ridership, ridership. This is a public investment; we need our transit dollar to go as far as it possibly can.

That’s all the time I can spend now. Let’s see if FAN was serious about taking this seriously before I invest any more.

Evolve Austin continues AURA line of horseshit about transit and density


Dear mayor and council members:

My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and have written a bit on the topic of transportation (mostly transit) ever since.

You've received some correspondence recently on and on behalf of Evolve Austin that continues to claim that Capital Metro is reorienting its services to better support land use that provides the density and walkability to make transit service more feasible and sustainable at a lower cost.

This is false. Cap Metro has not changed one iota; the recent service changes continue a pattern of reorienting service to unproductive suburban areas and away from the areas that produce the highest transit ridership (and have the highest potential for additional ridership).

This presentation, from 2015, explains why the Rapid Bus shift was a degradation of transit service. Connections 2025 doubles down on this shift, removing even more local walkable transit service from the core neighborhoods where it is most heavily used.

https://www.slideshare.net/mikedahmus/20150211-transitvslanduse

I'm eager to communicate via email if any of you have any questions.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Austin Bus Service

It’s super neat that people are suggesting doing the right thing. In 2017.

It’s also super neat that the guy who claimed to be supporting this for years was on the UTC. In 2004. When I made the motion below. Which died for lack of a second.

WHEREAS the City of Austin does not receive adequate mobility benefits from the currently proposed Long Range Transit Plan due to its reliance on “rapid bus” transit without separate right-of-way

and

WHEREAS a “rapid bus” line does not and cannot provide the necessary permanent infrastructure to encourage mixed-use pedestrian-oriented densification along its corridor

and

WHEREAS the vast majority of Capital Metro funds come from residents of the City of Austin

and

WHEREAS the commuter rail plan proposed as the centerpiece of this plan delivers most of its benefits to residents of areas which are not within the Capital Metro service area while ignoring the urban core which provides most Capital Metro monies

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Urban Transportation Commission recommends that the City Council immediately reject Capital Metro’s Long-Range Transit Plan and begin working towards a plan which:

A. delivers more reliable and high-performance transit into and through the urban core, including but not limited to the University of Texas, Capitol Complex, and downtown
B. requires additional user fees from passengers using Capital Metro rail services who reside in areas which are not part of the Capital Metro service area
C. provides permanent infrastructure to provide impetus for pedestrian-oriented mixed-use redevelopment of the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor
IF CAPITAL METRO will not work with the City of Austin on all items above, THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the UTC advises the City Council to begin preparations to withdraw from the Capital Metro service area and provide its own transit system in order to provide true mobility benefits to the taxpayers of Austin.

In the year 2000

of course, treatment the humans are dead.

humansaredead1

In the year 2008, information pills the following files represent the main local and express bus services on Guadalupe (thanks to the Wayback Machine):

Route 1 in 2008

Route 3 in 2008

Route 5 in 2008

Route 101 in 2008

Look in a little more detail during the AM peak, with relevant images.

Route 1:

route1_sb_peak

At the Guadalupe/45th timepoint, there were 21 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 11 minutes). Applies to NUNA and Hyde Park. Stops every couple of blocks, so assume a short walk straight west to Guadalupe.

Route 3:

(In 2008, the Route 3 ran down Guadalupe from 38th to 29th, and then jogged through West Campus a block or so to the west).

route3_sb_peak

(Assuming that 34th/Guadalupe is about halfway in between the 38th/Lamar and MLK/Nueces timepoints):

At 34th/Guadalupe, there were 11 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 21 minutes). Applies to NUNA only, not Hyde Park1. Stops every couple of blocks, so assume a short walk straight west to Guadalupe.

Route 5:

(Ran/runs across 45th to Speedway, turns right and heads through center of Hyde Park and NUNA, then west to Guadalupe at north edge of UT).

route5_sb_peak

At 38th/Speedway, there were 9 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway varied from 15 to 30 minutes). Stops every couple of blocks along Speedway so you can assume a mostly direct, short, walk.

(Why not include the IF?)

The IF runs basically the same route as the 5, from 45th to UT. However, it is not suitable for use by the general non-UT population. It doesn’t go south of UT to downtown; it doesn’t run on non-class days; it doesn’t run during breaks when normal people have to work. At best it’s an emergency backup.

(Why not include the 19?)

I might should. When I did this wayback exercise I wasn’t thinking of it, but the 19 was somewhat useful south of 38th, if I remember correctly. I might go back and correct if enough people clamor for it.

(Why not include the 21/22)

Very short segment on Guadalupe, not generally north-south in ways that would be useful for this exercise.

Route 101:

(Ran on essentially the same route the 801 runs today, hitting most of the same stops – not all. Stop at 51st instead of the Triangle; stop near 38th served NUNA a little better and Hyde Park a little worse than current 801 stop closer to 39th. Note that no other stops are served than the few dots on the map in the PDF linked above. So it’s 51st, 38th, and then UT.).

route101_sb_peak

At 38th/Guadalupe, there were 7 trips passing by after 6 AM and before 10 AM (headway was 15 minutes but only started at about 7:30 and ended at about 9:00). Counting for both NUNA and Hyde Park as this was the designated ‘express’ for both (no closer option), and we’ll do the same later for the 801, but indicated as ‘long walk’ in both cases.

2008 Summary

For a resident of western Hyde Park, you could walk to Guadalupe and expect a route 1 every 11 minutes, a route 101 every 15 minutes (unless very early or very late), and you could walk east to Speedway and expect a route 5 every 15-30 minutes. Total local buses for southbound peak available: 30. Total limited-stop buses for southbound peak available: 7 (long walk for some).

For a resident of NUNA, you could walk to Guadalupe and expect a route 1 every 11 minutes, a route 3 every 21 minutes, a route 101 every 15 minutes (same caveat as above), or you could walk to Speedway and expect a route 5 every 15-30 minutes. Total local buses for southbound peak available: 41. Total limited-stop buses for southbound peak available: 7 (long walk for some).


  1. although if I was the kind of anti-CapMetro pedant most assume, I’d give full credit for Hyde Park since the southwestern corner could easily walk to 38th/Guadalupe and pick up the 3. But I’m better than they are, so I won’t give credit for HP for these locals 

Andy Cantú and the Austin Chamber of Commerce are dishonest, ignorant, or both.

Chamber says land reform is top transportation priority

That interest in return on investment opens the chamber up to critics who drubbed the 2014 light rail proposal as a suboptimal choice of projects. Its huge price tag and relatively low ridership projections – due in part to a route that bypassed some of the city’s densest neighborhoods – could have drastically cut into the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s operating budget, which could in turn have hurt the agency’s bus service, those critics argued.

“I don’t think I would characterize the 2014 bond proposal as a bad plan or a bad investment,” Cantú said in the chamber’s defense. “It might not have been the perfect plan. And I think a lot of people and groups in Austin are looking for perfection, and perfection is the enemy of good enough.”

He either doesn’t know the concept “worse than nothing” or knows it and doesn’t care. Ignorant or dishonest. You pick.

And, yes, this is important. The Chamber essentially picked that disastrous route for us, because the Mayor didn’t know anything about transportation and listened to their (bad) advice.

If the Chamber’s ‘new approach’ that identifies sprawl as bad does not include radical honesty about how bad the 2014 light rail plan was (instead extolling I-35 ‘improvements’ and more state highway ‘investment’), then they have learned nothing; we are all dumber for having listened to them. I award them no points; and may god have mercy on their souls.

billymadison_nopoints

Shame on Commissioner Weatherby and Mayor Adler

As a former proud member of the city’s Urban Transportation Commission, I am disgusted with Cynthia Weatherby’s transparently obvious water-carrying for Mayor Adler in making clearly false statements about the CACDC rail plan. Shame on you.

Had my sponsor asked me to say anything that was this dishonest to the public, I would have immediately resigned my position in protest. It’s to his credit that he never did ask for anything like that when marketing a transportation issue, unlike Mayor Adler (this is the second time it has become clear that Adler has sent his appointee to a commission with less than savory instructions).

Urban Transportation Commission talks rail, sidewalks, bond dismay

Please read CACDC’s comprehensive, detailed, response to her claims.

Here’s what a more honest ‘card’ would have looked like.

An awful lot of people parroted the same talking points supported by your cards (i.e. the large print) in your ‘explainer’ article and ignored statements from uber and lyft to the contrary (only stated as “The companies say they cannot operate […]” in the small text).

What do I mean?

Here’s one example of your explanation of what a yes/no vote would mean:

Prop1YESNO_tradedress

Note that both side of the card start with Uber and lyft will.

Huh. Here we are immediately after the election, and what happened?

lyftaustinmap

But wait. That can’t be right! Let’s look at KUT’s card again. Maybe we read it wrong.

Prop1YESNO_tradedress

zoomin1

zoomin2

Wait, it still seems to say that if we voted NO, Uber and lyft drivers would be forced to do the things that we want.

If only some internet crank had warned you the language was misleading ahead of the election, I’m sure you would have done the right thing.

Wha’ happen, KUT?
Hey KUT! It’s not that difficult, really! I showed you this before the election, remember.

Card 1:

BAD:

Prop1YESNO_backgroundchecks_2

GOOD:

moreaccuratecard

Card 2:

BAD:

Prop1YESNO_feestructure_2

(Bad – implies that uber and lyft will stay, and will pay. An honest version of this would say “Uber and lyft will leave. Other TNCs will pay […]”).

(A different card): Card 3:

GOOD:

moreaccuratecard2

(Did I show these to KUT well before the election? What do you think?)

Note: In 2017, when this came up again, and I had to repair this page from the Great Pharma Hack Of 16, I noticed that card 2 and card 3 weren’t actually the same card. Sorry. I think it’s still clear enough what the issue was with each).

Hey KUT, wha happen?

An awful lot of people parroted the same talking points supported by your cards (i.e. the large print) in your ‘explainer’ article and ignored statements from uber and lyft to the contrary (only stated as “The companies say they cannot operate […]” in the small text).

What do I mean?

Here’s one example of your explanation of what a yes/no vote would mean:

Prop1YESNO_tradedress

Note that both side of the card start with Uber and lyft (will/must). Meaning that surely KUT meant to tell their readers/listeners that if they voted NO to the proposition, psychiatrist that uber and lyft would do some things that we wanted them to do while continuing to offer rides here, approved right?

Huh. Here we are immediately after the election, and what happened?

lyftaustinmap

uber

But wait. That can’t be right! Let’s look at KUT’s card again. Maybe we read it wrong.

Prop1YESNO_tradedress

zoomin1

zoomin2

Wait, it still seems to say that if we voted NO, Uber and lyft drivers would be forced to do the things that we want.

If only some internet crank had warned you the language was misleading ahead of the election, I’m sure you would have done the right thing.

Wha’ happen, KUT?

Know how you can tell they’re not honest?

Capital Metro edition

Yes, it’s been a while1.

In a recent twitter thread, Karl-Thomas Musselman posted the tweet below. I am making this blog post to capture it so that this well-made point is not lost in the twitter memory hole.

The graphic comes from Capital Metro’s 2016 approved budget on page 48. The full graphic is after this paragraph. What do you think this kind of choice in axis scaling suggests about Capital Metro’s honesty on rail subsidies?

Page 48, Capital Metro 2016 Approved Budget
Page 48, Capital Metro 2016 Approved Budget

  1. Note: I have not blogged much this year because the actions of Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano and others, especially linked with AURA, have made my investment in public affairs significantly less effective. This lack of content is likely to continue as long as the urbanist community decides his approach and style are preferable.  

#atxrail classic courtesy of Central Austin CDC

The insiders who messed up Proposition 1 still haven’t come to terms with what they did, so I’m not going to let it sit either. Here’s something not to forget; when certain political actors try to pretend there was some kind of consensus behind the choice that got spanked at the polls instead of the one that was never allowed to be studied:

https://twitter.com/cdcatx/status/585817756165021696/

atxrail1