GAME-CHANGER Part One

(I still owe a response to Novacek’s very long comment on this post but have to decide if I want to spend the energy to format it into a table first. Dude, sick there’s a reason people have blogs of their own sometimes).

So Jace Deloney posted a couple of pics of what’s realistically one of the BEST MetroRapid ‘stations’ downtown. One example here:

MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney
MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney

Here’s a shot I snapped last week of a more typical one (obviously still under construction) – this is in front of Natural Grocer on northbound Guadalupe near 39th. Note the lack of room for a bike rack, and the intrusion into what’s already a very narrow sidewalk. I took this picture originally to counter a claim by a Capital Metro representative that all stations would have bike racks – which they’ve now dialed back to “unless there’s some nearby”.

MetroRapid 'station', NB Guadalupe near 39th

Compare to an existing southbound local bus stop pretty much right across the street:

Local bus stop, SB Guadalupe near 39th via Google StreetView

I don’t have pictures yet, but the northbound MetroRapid stops at UT are only a little better than what you saw at Natural Grocer. The stop at 23rd is just OK – along the lines of a good local stop – but the stop near Dean Keeton is a tiny alcove where the bike racks will block pedestrian traffic on the existing sidewalk if they get used. I will likely be urging the city to force Capital Metro to get rid of those racks as they present a safety hazard for pedestrians there; and for those of you who have known me a long time, for me to advocate against something bike-related is a big deal.

Now, just for comparison, a light rail station in Houston, in the median, of course, where it didn’t have to compete with existing sidewalk demands:

Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park
Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park

 

Now, if your argument is “this is going to be as good as rail for Central Austin”, you’ve got to compare to Houston’s MetroRail above, which is similar to what 2000’s light rail plan had planned for ‘stations’ – i.e. long boarding platforms in the median where they wouldn’t compete with existing sidewalk users.

If your argument is “this is going to be a signature bus service which blows through the constraints old bus service had and be ALMOST as good as rail for Central Austin”, then you have to explain the fact that the best MetroRapid stations aren’t much better than existing good local stops, and the worst are far worse. In fact, it looks like they accepted whatever scrap they could carve out of existing ROW.

But if this is too much for you, and you’re feeling kind of negative again, feel free ignore all the analysis above, plug your fingers in your ears, and chant “GAME CHANGER!”.

Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw
Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw

Note: Jace replied to me on twitter that I’m selling the new ‘stations’ short by not mentioning the arrival boards (the “next bus comes in X minutes” thing). That’s true; this particular post was referring more to the spatial aspects of the station. One thing that current bus service does not have in any way, shape, or form, is a way to know how long until the next bus gets there. This is not a selling point for MetroRapid, though, so much as it is an indictment of current bus service – because this has been technologically feasible for at least a decade. It will be nice that I can know when the next Rapid Bus will arrive, in other words, but there’s no reason I should have had to wait for Rapid Bus to get that information – I should be able to know right now when the next #1 or #101 arrives.

Some pretty pictures

Having seen somebody very recently and very approvingly point to this somewhat credulous piece on the Austin Post as “a breakdown” of MetroRapid, page and having one of my rare crackplog opportunities (i.e. on a plane), I’ll try to make this brief and use a couple of simple examples.

(Edit: I had a LOT of trouble with an interaction between the javascript in the wordpress composition page and the plane’s wifi; this is best viewed as a first draft or part one).

background

First, remember: Unlike with MetroRapid on Burnet and S Lamar, MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe/SouthCongress is replacing an existing limited-stop service which already runs with decently high frequencies. In other words, we live in a world where the 101 already exists. The change is not, as it is on the 3 corridor, giving up shorter walks in return for higher frequencies and higher speeds; as you will see below, you’re giving up shorter walks AND higher frequencies for no actual improvement in speed.

today’s example: a really good looking guy who happens to live near 42nd and avenue b

Example 1: Let’s call this guy “Precisely Mike Dahmus”, because he’s exactly me. Imagine I worked downtown at 6th and Congress instead of in the evil soul-sucking wasteland across from Westlake High.

If I were to walk from 42nd and Avenue B (near my house) to Guadalupe to take the 1, or 101, today, I’d have choices like this at 8:00 in the morning:

 

8:00 in the morning; top two choices
8:00 in the morning; top two choices

Notice that the 101 isn’t much faster than the 1, overall, because it takes 4 minutes longer to walk to 39th and Guadalupe (where the MetroRapid stop is currently under construction and where the 101 stops today) than it does to walk to 41st and Guadalupe (a 1L/1M stop, but not a 101 or MR stop). The bus is 6 minutes faster downtown if you only consider time on the bus (I used 6th/Congress for this comparison).

What’s the change when MetroRapid is added? Well, half of the 1L/1M trips at 41st/Guadalupe go away; and half of the 1L/1M trips at 39th/Guadalupe also go away (obviously). The MetroRapid route runs every ten minutes during peak times, which sounds good, but remember that the last time I explored this, I showed that the combination of 1 and 101 actually runs more often today than the future combination of 1 and MR will run. I was going to do a pretty picture here with some more screen grabs, but the internet on the plane is not cooperating well with the wordpress composition screen, so I’ll just have to spell it out:

Today, in peak hours, the stop at 41st and Guadalupe gets 5 or 6 1L’s or 1M’s every hour (varies depending on which 60 minute window you choose). The stop at 39th and Guadalupe gets the same 5 or 6 1L/1M buses and 3 or 4 101s. (The example in the link above had 5 1s and 4 101s for a total of 9 buses). Note that at this stop, today, your rational action if you care most about getting to your destination as soon as possible is to get on the first 1 or 101 that shows up because the time savings of 4 minutes (101 being 4 minutes faster than the 1) is less than or equal to the expected wait time for the next bus to arrive (whether or not it will be a 101!). Yes, even if the 101 is faster!

Of course, at 41st and Guadalupe, you’re going to get on the first 1L or 1M you see.

Now, fast-forward to when MetroRapid opens. Capital Metro has said the 101 is gone, replaced with 6 MetroRapids per hour (one every ten minutes). Either the 1L or the 1M is slated to be eliminated, so the 5 or 6 buses per hour changes to 2 or 3. At 41st/Guadalupe, your calculus is now quite different – whereas before you never had longer than 10-12 minutes to wait for the next 1, you may now have 20-25 minutes to wait; and it may make sense to walk down to 39th to pick up the MetroRapid. But this is not an improvement for old Mike! Unlike many of the people on the Burnet/SLamar corridor, he currently has a choice between the 1 and the 101 which is roughly the same – now he’s forced to walk further to the replacement to the 101 because somebody took away half the 1s. The new trip is no faster than his 101 option is today.

Don’t believe me? Look at 39th/Guadalupe in the new order. You’ve got 2-3 1s, same performance characteristics as today; and you’ve got 6 MetroRapids, same performance characteristics as today’s 101 (by Capital Metro’s own admission!):

From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro
From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro – click to embiggen

At 39th/Guadalupe, you gave up between 9 and 11 trips per hour, which had similar overall expected time-to-destination (combination of existing 1 and 101); and you got between 8 and 9 trips per hour (2-3 1s that remain; 6 MetroRapids). And again, I don’t know how often I can emphasize this before people get it, the faster MetroRapid trips aren’t any faster than the 101s that run today.

What about truly frequent service?

One of the ways to think about this is that the time you really spend on transit is a combination of walk+expected wait+travel time, and that transit can only be truly useful when it’s frequent enough that you don’t have to look at a schedule, as Capital Metro has claimed will be the case with MetroRapid (even though, as you can see above, there are problems with this claim).

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit (somebody please remind me to link this later when I have a better connection) has said that when dealing with frequent service, as both the before and after are by Austin’s standards, you should consider the “wait” to just be “half of the headway”, i.e., if you walk out at random to the bus stop, you’re going to wait, on average, half of the scheduled time between buses. Let’s put that to the test.

Today, the Mike example above has the following choices:

1. Go to 41st/Guadalupe (4 minute walk).

2. Wait for bus (half headway rule says there are 5-6 buses per hour for a headway of 11 minutes; half headway is 5.5 minutes).

3. Travel on bus (19 minutes).

The total expected time for “show up and go”, which, again, is how we’re supposed to judge truly frequent service, is 28.5 minutes. Not bad compared to a car drive of 10 minutes, trying to find parking for 5 minutes, and a likely longer walk from parking than from the bus stop!

Mike’s choices at 39th/Guadalupe, if he chooses to take the longer walk to get a chance to ride the 101, are a walk of 8 minutes; a half-headway wait of 3 minutes (9-11 buses per hour); travel time of 13 minutes on the bus for a total expected time of 24 minutes. Note, actually a little faster, in the “show and go” method, compared to staying at 41st/Guadalupe! If you can hack the extra walk, this is the way to go (and this meshes with why MetroRapid is an improvement on Burnet and S Lamar, where no existing express service exists!)

Now, using same methodology for the future; “show and go” at 41st/Guadalupe changes to 2-3 buses per hour, so we get a total expected time of: 4 minutes for the walk, 12.5 minutes for the wait (headway now 20-30 minutes); and the same 19 minutes bus time, adding up to 35.5 minutes. Not a credible alternative to the car any more.

What about going down to 39th/Guadalupe? Same as two paragraphs back except half-headway changes to 3.5 minutes (8.5 trips per hour; half headway). Total expected time is now: 24.5 minutes.

But wait, you say; I’ve used the MetroRapid travel time even though I’m using half-headways that count the 1L and 1M. Yes, yes I am; if we’re doing show-and-go, that’s the way we have to do it (because as we discussed before, once a bus shows up and I’ve already waited N minutes, the rational decision is to get on it whether it’s a local or a limited – because the wait till the next one is actually longer than the expected travel time savings). Is this unfair? Yes, it’s unfair, but unfair mainly in Capital Metro’s favor, since in the equations above I’m assuming all of the buses travel as fast as the current 101!. The image below breaks it out a bit further to explain what happens in the various scenarios. “Best” means you showed up at 39th/Guadalupe and the next bus was a 101; “Worst” means it was a 1.

42nd and B, "show and go"

 

Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.

42nd and B "show and go" - sorted

 

So even with the investment of tens of millions of dollars into MetroRapid, the hypothetical in reality exactly real me gets zero benefit from the project, even in “show and go mode”.

I’ll be back with more use cases later.

KEY POINTS

When somebody says “it’s faster”, it should probably actually be faster. In no way can you reasonably describe MetroRapid on this, by far most important, stretch of corridor as “faster”. MetroRapid may gain a few minutes if you come from the South Transit Center into downtown, which a few people actually do; and even more if you go from South Transit Center to North Transit Center, which nobody actually does, but for the key stretch (you know, the one where rail is an issue being discussed right now), MetroRapid is not any faster, at all, in any way, shape, or form.

When somebody says “it’s more frequent” (as almost everybody has), it should probably actually be more frequent. This isn’t as egregious a falsehood as the speed one, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous. Yes, MetroRapid is running a little more often than the existing 101 whose speed and reliability it will be unable to beat, but Capital Metro intends to pay for this by cutting local buses along the same route which are often a better choice for passengers. Overall frequency, counting all reasonable options, is not going up; it is going DOWN.
Go click-crazy on these pics, medical man.

In response to yesterday’s post:

Classy guy on twitter

 

Some things I found in five seconds on the internet (I’m on vacation – got back from the beach a minute ago and am about to go to the grandparents’ old age home in 5):

From Capital Metro's page

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 1.40.19 PM

Also from Capital Metro

From the Austin Post

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 1.41.27 PM

From CapitalMetroBlog

 

But I know, guys, it’s all my fault for focusing too much on travel time, right?

MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe: the REAL breakdown

Having seen somebody very recently and very approvingly point to this somewhat credulous piece on the Austin Post as “a breakdown” of MetroRapid, and having one of my rare crackplog opportunities (i.e. on a plane), I’ll try to make this brief and use a couple of simple examples.

(Edit: I had a LOT of trouble with an interaction between the javascript in the wordpress composition page and the plane’s wifi; this is best viewed as a first draft or part one).

background

First, remember: Unlike with MetroRapid on Burnet and S Lamar, MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe/SouthCongress is replacing an existing limited-stop service which already runs with decently high frequencies. In other words, we live in a world where the 101 already exists. The change is not, as it is on the 3 corridor, giving up shorter walks in return for higher frequencies and higher speeds; as you will see below, you’re giving up shorter walks AND higher frequencies for no actual improvement in speed.

today’s example: a really good looking guy who happens to live near 42nd and avenue b

Example 1: Let’s call this guy “Precisely Mike Dahmus”, because he’s exactly me. Imagine I worked downtown at 6th and Congress instead of in the evil soul-sucking wasteland across from Westlake High.

If I were to walk from 42nd and Avenue B (near my house) to Guadalupe to take the 1, or 101, today, I’d have choices like this at 8:00 in the morning:

8:00 in the morning; top two choices
8:00 in the morning; top two choices

Notice that the 101 isn’t much faster than the 1, overall, because it takes 4 minutes longer to walk to 39th and Guadalupe (where the MetroRapid stop is currently under construction and where the 101 stops today) than it does to walk to 41st and Guadalupe (a 1L/1M stop, but not a 101 or MR stop). The bus is 6 minutes faster downtown if you only consider time on the bus (I used 6th/Congress for this comparison).

What’s the change when MetroRapid is added? Well, half of the 1L/1M trips at 41st/Guadalupe go away; and half of the 1L/1M trips at 39th/Guadalupe also go away (obviously). The MetroRapid route runs every ten minutes during peak times, which sounds good, but remember that the last time I explored this, I showed that the combination of 1 and 101 actually runs more often today than the future combination of 1 and MR will run. I was going to do a pretty picture here with some more screen grabs, but the internet on the plane is not cooperating well with the wordpress composition screen, so I’ll just have to spell it out:

Today, in peak hours, the stop at 41st and Guadalupe gets 5 or 6 1L’s or 1M’s every hour (varies depending on which 60 minute window you choose). The stop at 39th and Guadalupe gets the same 5 or 6 1L/1M buses and 3 or 4 101s. (The example in the link above had 5 1s and 4 101s for a total of 9 buses). Note that at this stop, today, your rational action if you care most about getting to your destination as soon as possible is to get on the first 1 or 101 that shows up because the time savings of 4 minutes (101 being 4 minutes faster than the 1) is less than or equal to the expected wait time for the next bus to arrive (whether or not it will be a 101!). Yes, even if the 101 is faster!

Of course, at 41st and Guadalupe, you’re going to get on the first 1L or 1M you see.

Now, fast-forward to when MetroRapid opens. Capital Metro has said the 101 is gone, replaced with 6 MetroRapids per hour (one every ten minutes). Either the 1L or the 1M is slated to be eliminated, so the 5 or 6 buses per hour changes to 2 or 3. At 41st/Guadalupe, your calculus is now quite different – whereas before you never had longer than 10-12 minutes to wait for the next 1, you may now have 20-25 minutes to wait; and it may make sense to walk down to 39th to pick up the MetroRapid. But this is not an improvement for old Mike! Unlike many of the people on the Burnet/SLamar corridor, he currently has a choice between the 1 and the 101 which is roughly the same – now he’s forced to walk further to the replacement to the 101 because somebody took away half the 1s. The new trip is no faster than his 101 option is today.

Don’t believe me? Look at 39th/Guadalupe in the new order. You’ve got 2-3 1s, same performance characteristics as today; and you’ve got 6 MetroRapids, same performance characteristics as today’s 101 (by Capital Metro’s own admission!):

From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro
From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro – click to embiggen

At 39th/Guadalupe, you gave up between 9 and 11 trips per hour, which had similar overall expected time-to-destination (combination of existing 1 and 101); and you got between 8 and 9 trips per hour (2-3 1s that remain; 6 MetroRapids). And again, I don’t know how often I can emphasize this before people get it, the faster MetroRapid trips aren’t any faster than the 101s that run today.

What about truly frequent service?

One of the ways to think about this is that the time you really spend on transit is a combination of walk+expected wait+travel time, and that transit can only be truly useful when it’s frequent enough that you don’t have to look at a schedule, as Capital Metro has claimed will be the case with MetroRapid (even though, as you can see above, there are problems with this claim).

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit (somebody please remind me to link this later when I have a better connection) has said that when dealing with frequent service, as both the before and after are by Austin’s standards, you should consider the “wait” to just be “half of the headway”, i.e., if you walk out at random to the bus stop, you’re going to wait, on average, half of the scheduled time between buses. Let’s put that to the test.

Today, the Mike example above has the following choices:

  1. Go to 41st/Guadalupe (4 minute walk).
  2. Wait for bus (half headway rule says there are 5-6 buses per hour for a headway of 11 minutes; half headway is 5.5 minutes).
  3. Travel on bus (19 minutes).

The total expected time for “show up and go”, which, again, is how we’re supposed to judge truly frequent service, is 28.5 minutes. Not bad compared to a car drive of 10 minutes, trying to find parking for 5 minutes, and a likely longer walk from parking than from the bus stop!

Mike’s choices at 39th/Guadalupe, if he chooses to take the longer walk to get a chance to ride the 101, are a walk of 8 minutes; a half-headway wait of 3 minutes (9-11 buses per hour); travel time of 13 minutes on the bus for a total expected time of 24 minutes. Note, actually a little faster, in the “show and go” method, compared to staying at 41st/Guadalupe! If you can hack the extra walk, this is the way to go (and this meshes with why MetroRapid is an improvement on Burnet and S Lamar, where no existing express service exists!)

Now, using same methodology for the future; “show and go” at 41st/Guadalupe changes to 2-3 buses per hour, so we get a total expected time of: 4 minutes for the walk, 12.5 minutes for the wait (headway now 20-30 minutes); and the same 19 minutes bus time, adding up to 35.5 minutes. Not a credible alternative to the car any more.

What about going down to 39th/Guadalupe? Same as two paragraphs back except half-headway changes to 3.5 minutes (8.5 trips per hour; half headway). Total expected time is now: 24.5 minutes.

But wait, you say; I’ve used the MetroRapid travel time even though I’m using half-headways that count the 1L and 1M. Yes, yes I am; if we’re doing show-and-go, that’s the way we have to do it (because as we discussed before, once a bus shows up and I’ve already waited N minutes, the rational decision is to get on it whether it’s a local or a limited – because the wait till the next one is actually longer than the expected travel time savings). Is this unfair? Yes, it’s unfair, but unfair mainly in Capital Metro’s favor, since in the equations above I’m assuming all of the buses travel as fast as the current 101!. The image below breaks it out a bit further to explain what happens in the various scenarios. “Best” means you showed up at 39th/Guadalupe and the next bus was a 101; “Worst” means it was a 1.

42nd and B, "show and go"

Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.

42nd and B "show and go" - sorted

So even with the investment of tens of millions of dollars into MetroRapid, the hypothetical in reality exactly real me gets zero benefit from the project, even in “show and go mode”.

I’ll be back with more use cases later.

KEY POINTS

When somebody says “it’s faster”, it should probably actually be faster. In no way can you reasonably describe MetroRapid on this, by far most important, stretch of corridor as “faster”. MetroRapid may gain a few minutes if you come from the South Transit Center into downtown, which a few people actually do; and even more if you go from South Transit Center to North Transit Center, which nobody actually does, but for the key stretch (you know, the one where rail is an issue being discussed right now), MetroRapid is not any faster, at all, in any way, shape, or form.

When somebody says “it’s more frequent” (as almost everybody has), it should probably actually be more frequent. This isn’t as egregious a falsehood as the speed one, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous. Yes, MetroRapid is running a little more often than the existing 101 whose speed and reliability it will be unable to beat, but Capital Metro intends to pay for this by cutting local buses along the same route which are often a better choice for passengers. Overall frequency, counting all reasonable options, is not going up; it is going DOWN.

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

In response to this site and calls to support it. Some links added as I find them. The post to which I replied, erectile misbirth paraphrased, this site pilule is something like “We believe in urban density but not these boarding houses / dorm duplexes”. Don’t want to quote without permission, cheap but that was the gist.

My response was:

So I too believe in urban density, and these buildings stink. I’m eager to meet new converts to the cause! Having lived for years on E 35th next to a big duplex and across an alley from a small apartment complex, I can tell you that even with a wonderful, responsive, landlord; the apartments beat the duplex hands-down for being good neighbors.

In the past, both Hyde Park NA and NUNA fought VMU on Guadalupe and then retreated to a position of demanding no parking reductions when the first battle was ‘lost’ (which effectively prevents all but the most high-dollar developments from materializing). The neighborhood plans call for minimal increases in density (in NUNA, it would be impossible to even rebuild some of the older apartment complexes on Speedway, for instance). NUNA fought the Villas on Guadalupe. Apartments and renters are demonized on this list. On and on and on.

So, I’m assuming those against these ‘dorm-style duplexes’, which are catering to an unmet-for-decades demand for student housing close enough to ride bikes to UT are going to be in favor of increased MF development not only on the edges of our neighborhood but on good transit corridors such as Speedway and Duval, right? New morning and all?
So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, website most active, decease most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

Was that sentence long enough? I pay by the period.

Anyways, so Rapid Bus? Snakes like JMVC are pitching the hell out of it and talking about it in the same breath as light rail and commuter rail as “high capacity transit” – which is a way to make people in Central Austin think they’re getting equal or nearly-equal quality.

This is bullshit.

So apparently I need to do this again – and this time, for the maximum possible fairness, I’m going to start with the BEST POSSIBLE CASE for Rapid Bus – the Burnet/Lamar corridor, where no express service currently exists.

Joker-here-we-go

Spin alert: Back to our buddy

From his twitter last night:

JMVC on twitter, <a href=
cystitis 1/15/2013″ src=”http://m1ek.dahmus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Screen-Shot-2013-01-16-at-8.51.28-AM.png” width=”519″ height=”96″ /> JMVC on twitter, mind 1/15/2013

Huh. Interesting this survey has not been published. Meanwhile, I refer again back to my three posts on the specific issue of who’s riding from where:

 

First, in Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part One?, I showed that the overwhelming majority of Red Line passengers are boarding at the three park and rides on the northern end of the line; NOT from the stations most people would think of as “in Austin”.

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Two?, I showed that it was expected that most riders at the Lakeline and Howard stations would not be from the City of Austin due to simple geography (i.e. of the people for whom it would make sense to drive a reasonable distance in the correct direction to the station, the overwhelming majority would be outside the Capital Metro service area and the city of Austin).

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Three?, a rider from up north verified that most passengers getting on board at the Lakeline Station (within Austin city limits, but just barely) are actually from Cedar Park, and pay zero Capital Metro taxes when in their home jurisdictions (no, the one or two lunches a week they might do in Austin don’t amount to a hill of beans).


So, back to today: If JMVC is asserting that most riders are from Austin, he has a duty to share his survey methodology and results with the public. If legitimate, I’ll cheerfully append them to each and every post above. Let’s see what he’s got.

Are Austin’s suburbs getting a sweet deal on transit or what?

This still apparently gets some people the wrong way. Please read it all the way through. Vomited out quickly because I really don’t have time to blog, mind but I have even less time to say this 140 characters at a time.

Despite appearances from this blog, page in real life I’m an introvert – fairly shy. Especially don’t like being in situations where I have to talk a lot to people I don’t know.

In 2000, I got on the Urban Transportation Commission and enjoyed the collegial relationship with a bunch of people who were like-minded to varying degrees, access to interesting subjects and speakers, the whole shebang. Still look back with fondness. In 2004, I became the public face of the “pro-rail but anti-Red-Line” campaign because nobody else would. This was a huge stretch for me – I’m not a politician; I don’t like to gladhand; and I’m petrified about giving speeches (not as much now, but definitely then).

It was just that important, though; nobody else would do it, so I had to. I gave speeches next to that asshat Jim Skaggs and said “if we build the Red Line, we can’t have good light rail”. I opposed the Red Line so vociferously and publically that, as expected, I got the boot from the UTC shortly after the election, and many people I used to talk to wouldn’t talk to me any more after that.

Of course, every prediction I made during that campaign turned out to be true – ridership was underwhelming; operating subsidies continue to be unmanageably huge.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled with people who don’t get why this was important. Why not just start with the Red Line and go from there, they say. Why not just expand the Red Line into something that works better?

This is insulting, people. Let me explain why.

1. I’m a smart guy.
2. I know transit really well.
3. I did something very uncomfortable for me for a long time and burned down a lot of stuff I liked to do because nobody else would say anything.

Do you folks honestly think I would have done that if I thought there was even a 1% chance we could get from “The Red Line exists” to “40,000 happy rail passengers a day at a sustainable operating subsidy of, say, 5 dollars per ride”? This was not and is not a simple difference of opinion. This was not me being a pessimist. I have lots of differences of opinion. I’m pessimistic and optimistic about lots of things. I wouldn’t go to all that trouble and burn down something I liked if I was only 99% sure the Red Line was going to be a disaster. Or 99.9%.

What most of the remaining optimists don’t understand is that there is quite literally NO way out of this mess that doesn’t require tearing up the Red Line unless you don’t care at all about how much money we spend on capital, operations, or both(*). Even the long-range plan the city and Cap Metro recently shat out admits this – getting up to something like 25,000 rail passengers in the year 2045 by, finally, ripping up part of the Red Line and replacing it with urban rail (of course, if we wait until 2045 to do this, it’ll be long too late for our city’s health, but still).

Even the city and Cap Metro get this. There’s no way to get “there” (40,000 happy rail passengers at a reasonable operating subsidy) from “here” (pretending the Red Line isn’t a huge disaster at operating subsidies of $25/ride for customers who mostly don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes). Again, the long-term plan of record right now is to build a bad urban rail line to Mueller, getting something shy of 10,000 riders/day; and then eventually building a second urban rail line that, once I’m retired or dead, will finally go up to about US 183 (pushing the DMU service out to the suburbs where it belonged all along). Again, this happens in 2045. At the end of all this, in 2045, we’ve spent five times as much money to get back to where we could be if we tore up the Red Line and built the 2000 route, and might get almost as many passengers, at a higher operating cost.

This isn’t a simple difference of opinion. For you to believe that there’s a way out of this mess now that doesn’t involve replacing the Red Line, you have to believe that I’m an idiot.

I’m not an idiot, people. We really are fucked.

Hope this helps.

(* – and if you don’t care how much money your plan costs, you are an idiot, or at best, painfully naive. No matter how much you stomp your feet and talk about how much we spend on highways, we still live in Texas and the United States, not New York or Western Europe – so costs matter a hell of a lot).

First assumption: JMVC (Capital Metro PR guy) knows that when people talk about the suburbs vs. the city, site we’re talking mostly about the Red Line. This is reasonable because the operating subsidies on the Red Line are gargantuan compared to bus service; and the Red Line thus consumes a hugely disproportionate share of Capital Metro’s operating and capital budgets. Although the video to which he links tries to muddy the issue by showing bus routes all over Austin as if they’re somehow as costly (and as attractive) as rail service, stuff we know better, don’t we?

So, let’s just talk about rail for right now, then.

Let’s consult the archives:

First, in Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part One?, I showed that the overwhelming majority of Red Line passengers are boarding at the three park and rides on the northern end of the line; NOT from the stations most people would think of as “in Austin”.

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Two?, I showed that it was expected that most riders at the Lakeline and Howard stations would not be from the City of Austin due to simple geography (i.e. of the people for whom it would make sense to drive a reasonable distance in the correct direction to the station, the overwhelming majority would be outside the Capital Metro service area and the city of Austin).

In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Three?, a rider from up north verified that most passengers getting on board at the Lakeline Station (within Austin city limits, but just barely) are actually from Cedar Park, and pay zero Capital Metro taxes when in their home jurisdictions (no, the one or two lunches a week they might do in Austin don’t amount to a hill of beans).

Conclusion? As usual, please don’t mistake JMVC’s paid spin for a responsible, reasonable, take on reality. In fact, the suburbs receive transit service far in excess of what would be fair given their contributions in tax dollars (remember, most of the areas served by the Red Line are attracting riders who pay ZERO Capital Metro taxes from their home jurisdictions). The suburbs that receive 0 transit service are getting their due; many of the northern suburbs that are getting non-zero service pay zero in taxes and are thus getting far more than their due; and a cursory examination of Leander would show that they’re getting back service worth more than what they pay in, so they’re getting off well too, even though unlike the rest of our suburban friends, they’re not complete freeloaders.

 

Oh, and JMVC’s statements are misleading at best.

 

Stop lying about TOD, Capital Metro

A friend of the crackplog (but strong Red Line supporter) who I will not identify unless I receive permission, contagion
scouted out some fellow riders at Lakeline recently (while I was on Maui) and reported the following:

Riding train in today. Very informal raise your hand survey when I boarded at Lakeline. Abt 20% of folks boarding live in Austin.

Of the rest almost all live in Cedar Park.

Talking to small group already on train, a few from Leander, 1 Cedar Park, rest neither.

While merely anecdotal, this tends to support the theory from my earlier posts that most riders at Lakeline are likely not residents of the city of Austin. My original (educated guess) estimate was that 10% of the boardings at Lakeline would be Austin residents; the anecdotal observation was 20%. Not too far off; and nowhere near the claims of Red Line defenders that because the station is within city limits, most passengers must be from Austin.

Unfortunately, the city just decided to use tax funds from the city of Austin to further subsidize suburbanites who do not contribute tax dollars to the running of the system. My letter to city council got just one response, from the council member I would have least expected to reply. So it goes.
I’ve thrown this argument and picture around a hundred times, visit this but have probably never put them together into a single post, anemia so here we go.

The 2000 light rail proposal had one section that was particularly problematic: where Guadalupe narrows to 4 skinny lanes between 29th and 27th streets. The ‘solution’ to light rail as envisioned back then by the city and by Capital Metro was something like the picture you see below, geriatrician but first I’ll explain it.

Light rail, to be any good, needs to run in its own space – free of cars. Also, in a two-way street, this space should be in the middle of the street – so that both directions of travel can share some infrastructure; so stations are easier to locate; etc.

Guadalupe is a wide street – mostly. Especially south of 24th, it would have been possible to keep two train lanes and (likely) two other lanes going each direction – or at a bare minimum, one lane each direction plus the tracks with no real trouble.

Except, again, for 27th to 30th. Right now there’s about 44 feet of right of way there (4 11-foot lanes). This is not enough to safely fit two train lanes and two vehicle lanes, unfortunately.

So what to do? Here’s my really crappy freehand reconstruction from memory of an engineering drawing that was on the wall of our UTC meeting room for several months in 2003, if I remember correctly. As per usual, click to embiggen.


Now, I might be getting northbound wrong here – it might have gone up Hemphill Park, but you get the idea. Both directions of through travel on Guadalupe would have been disrupted by moving to side streets.

Can you imagine trying to sell this to the public?

Well, in 2000 (and 2004, had we not rolled over for Mike Krusee), you could have made this argument:

Carrying 40,000 riders/day (boardings) is a more efficient use of this space than the cars (and buses) are currently able to pull off. An arterial lane like these can carry only 1000-1500 vehicles per hour – and this proposal trades 3 of the 4 through travel lanes for that train capacity. The travel demand in this corridor is highly directional – peak demand generally inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon with little reverse commuting. We could reasonably expect to somewhat increase the number of people able to use this corridor by making this change. Given there’s somewhere in the high single digit of thousands of boardings for buses in this corridor now, a safe estimate might be that you could almost double(*1) the people moved on the corridor by adding light rail that went directly from the suburban park-and-rides through the urban core into downtown.

Now move to 2012, and try to imagine making the same sale, in the world where the Red Line exists. Except those 40,000 boardings/day are nowhere in sight – because a lot of those people were suburban park-and-ride passengers who won’t ride a service that requires them to transfer (yes, even from train to train); and a few of the urban passengers who would be going up to suburban destinations. I think a reasonable estimate for ridership in this corridor, if we did what Lyndon Henry now wants and just built a stub urban rail line from the 2000 plan, would be 20,000 boardings/day. In other words, most of the urban ridership of the 2000 proposal plus the current Red Line riders. Is it worth the incredible disruption now – when you’re probably just adding a couple of thousands of boardings/day to the corridor?

No, sad to say, it is not.

And that, in addition to the political problems relating to Rapid Bus (see future post), is why we will never see rail in front of UT in our lifetimes. The key lesson here is that the entire reason I fought the Red Line in 2004 is precisely because it meant we couldn’t get rail later on Guadalupe (where it needs to be) if we built it. See here: Don’t Kid Yourself: Commuter Rail Precludes Light Rail, although that post emphasizes more of the technical and Rapid Bus related issues. I did warn people – if you start with the Red Line, you don’t get rail on Guadalupe, period.

(1: Yes, I could do the math. No, I don’t have time now. I did it on a piece of notebook paper back in the 20-oughts. You’ll have to trust me, or go look it up yourselves.)
I know you guys know better than this. And I know you’re just repeating what the developer says, approved but you know better, viagra sale and so repeating something you know to be false makes you, and well, liars.

Here is a picture from Google Earth showing the straight-line path from the 2900 Manor Road “TOD” to the MLK station. Google Earth shows this as 0.47 miles, which is not even in the same universe as “close enough to call this a transit-oriented development”. VTPI, who essentially invented the term, allows for walks of up to a half mile IF AND ONLY IF some necessary preconditions are met, which the Red Line does not even come close to meeting. Otherwise? Quarter-mile – and that’s for a large TOD area. If you want to call a small development a TOD, it needs to be very close to the transit.

It’s bad enough to count the M Station as a TOD – but at least it’s close enough to be a reasonable distance to walk, although still much further than the prospective passenger would walk to their car in the free surface parking lot. It’s bad enough to count Midtown Commons as a TOD, given that it’s less dense than the Triangle, which has no rail transit at all.

But this? This is enough. Stop it. Stop it now.

Your pal,

M1EK

Rapid [sic] Bus Fact Check: Will It Improve Frequency?

So it turns out I’m so busy now I can’t even keep up on twitter most days – but this deserved a momentary break.

People, salve and by that I mean Capital Metro and their cheerleaders, assured us that the Red Line would be “as good as light rail” once it ran all day. Instead, we have one or two ‘full’ trips per day and a lot of empty ones. And the full trips are misleading – express bus competitors were cancelled, a ton of free passes were given out, and a peak trip was dropped (IIRC), concentrating slightly more people on slightly fewer trains.

Well, anyways, it’s running all day now – and yet is achieving 1700 boardings per day compared to the 25-30K mediocre light rail lines that run all day are pulling (and that the 2000 light rail route would easily have pulled).

It’s time to ask again: WHY? Why are the tens of thousands of people within walking distance of the 2000 route who Capital Metro assured us would ride shuttlebuses not riding?

Well, wonder no more.

Alon Levy of Pedestrian Observations forwarded me this study with this short summary (summary from him):

@mdahmus tl;dr version: commuters don’t mind transfers at the outer end, but hate transfers in the CBD.

So there you have it. Too bad Capital Metro and cheerleaders not only didn’t listen in 2004, but still won’t listen – not even today. Yes, even now, I’m having to fight this battle in the comments section of their very own blog.

So, in summary, it’s important to remember: lots of people don’t mind taking a bus from their house to the train station, but almost everybody minds taking a bus from the train station to their office. Never forget.

Background, mostly from yours truly over the years:

 

 
Please excuse the quick and multiple likely edits. Trying to squeeze this in just a few minutes.

The PR guys at Capital Metro have surfaced again – trying to convince us that MetroRapid is a real improvement for Central Austin (you know, cure where light rail should have gone). One of the claims gaining traction lately (in addition to the disproved claim that it will provide measurable speed and reliability benefits – please excuse link to old site but I have not yet imported the last 6 months of posts here) is that frequency in the core will improve dramatically.

Pure and simple: This is bullshit.

Current service on the #1 bus during the day is every 12 minutes (once you leave the core, disease very generously defined as the North Lamar Transit Center to the South Lamar Transit Center, symptoms it splits into 2 routes, each one of which runs every 24 minutes).

Full #1 schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=001

 

Here’s a snippet:

Note that the #1 runs every 12 minutes here. This continues all day until 2:45 PM, when it switches to every 13 minutes (due to worse traffic in the PM); only reducing frequency below that after 7:15 or so – gradually to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes.

Now what about the #101, you know, the bus route that the Rapid [sic] Bus is actually replacing?

Full schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=101

Here’s a snippet:

A little tricker since only some of the trips go all the way to the South Congress TC, but it does run at 15 minute frequency basically all day long.

What does this mean? It means that in an average hour, if you are on the #1 corridor anywhere in Central Austin, you will see 5 #1 buses and 4 #101 buses go by. For instance, this is what you would see southbound between 7:00 and 8:00 AM at The Triangle, where you can pick up either bus:

From Capital Metro’s interactive data:

101: 07:04am 07:24am 07:29am 07:44am

1L: 07:10am 07:34am 07:58am

1M: 07:22am 07:46am

Or, arranged in order:

 

Now here’s what frequency might look like with Rapid [sic] Bus if we run the 801 every 10 minutes and eliminate, let’s say, half of the #1 trips (Capital Metro is saying all #101 and some #1 trips will be eliminated):

 

Does anybody here think 8 is more than 9? Or, if you don’t like which 1L/1M trips I proposed for elimination, make your own choice – keep the first and third 1L and lose the second one; and keep the opposite 1Ms, and you still end up with 9. Oops.

Even if you kept all the #1 trips (i.e. did NOT take Capital Metro at their word that they plan on reducing #1 service), and you end up with 11 trips versus 9 – hardly a major improvement in frequency.

 

Now, will the service improve frequency for users of the #3? Yes, a little bit, but this is not the primary corridor being advertised – nor is it where most of the current travel demand exists.

So, on this fact check, Capital Metro fails. MetroRapid will NOT dramatically increase frequency in the urban core.

PS: This is the kind of analysis you should expect out of the Alliance for Public Transportation – who purports to be an independent voice for public transportation in our region but are really nothing but uncritical cheerleading lap-dogs for Capital Metro. I have the guts but not the time; they have the time but apparently not the guts. If you want more of this kind of stuff, ask THEM why they’re not doing their jobs, OK?

 

 

The Mike Krusee Story

Adam asked in comments for some background on Mike Krusee. Here it is:

In 2000, Capital Metro was preparing for a push for light-rail on a corridor which, on objective measures, was the best suited for an urban rail starter line in this city. It would have hit all three major attractors, ran through the densest residential neighborhoods, and hit the big suburban park-and-rides. The FTA loved this line. It would have given transit service to Leander as well as urban Austin, and it would have been competitive enough with the car to be a successful starter line for a future rail network, based on similar experience in cities like Dallas, Denver, Portland, and Salt Lake City.

Mike Krusee did not like this.

Capital Metro was, in my opinion based on our meetings with them at the time, preparing for an election in 2001, possibly in May.

Mike Krusee did not like this.

Virtually none of Capital Metro’s constituents are in Mike Krusee’s district.

This did not stop Mike Krusee.

Mike Krusee forced an election in November, 2000 on light rail. This was:

  • Too early – Capital Metro hadn’t finished figuring out what roads it would run on, or how much support there would be for various parts of the route (for instance, in retrospect, running on South Congress was a non-starter and should have been dropped, but there wasn’t time to figure this out well enough beforehand; others complained that it was impossible to evaluate the proposal since CM still had five or six proposed routes through downtown).
  • Bad timing – Dubya was running for President, which pulled in a disproportionate number of suburban voters disinclined to give transit a chance.

That election failed, by the closest margin ever seen in a rail ballot. In fact, it passed inside Austin, and passed overwhelmingly in central Austin. The cities now viewed as light-rail success stories generally had to run multiple votes after their first vote failed by a much larger margin than did Austin’s. This should have demonstrated a mandate in favor of rail, within the city limits of Austin.

This wasn’t enough for Mike Krusee.

He then wrote a bill which was passed by the state Legislature which required that Capital Metro only hold rail elections in November of even-numbered years (basically stacking the deck against transit – common local issue elections typically happen in May and would draw out people more interested in local issues than national ones; Krusee forced the reverse).

Again keep in mind that most of Mike Krusee’s constituents do not pay taxes to Capital Metro.

This restriction was not placed on transit systems in general (i.e. Dallas’ DART system, Houston’s METRO system, or proposed VIA rail system in San Antonion). It was placed only on Capital Metro.
The people of Austin demonstrated they wanted rail, and Mike Krusee made sure they wouldn’t get it.

Now, fast forward to 2004. The guiding force behind Capital Metro’s switch to commuter rail is….. Mike Krusee. Capital Metro is understandably scared to death of Mike Krusee, since he holds some powerful levers at the State. Mike Krusee wants commuter rail instead of urban rail, and that’s what Capital Metro is giving him.
Why does Mike Krusee support this plan? Take a look at the long-range plan. Where does the second commuter rail line go?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Where do Mike Krusee’s constituents live?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Who doesn’t pay Capital Metro taxes?

Round Rock and Georgetown.

Who DOES pay 93% of Capital Metro taxes?

Those Dirty Hippies In Urban Austin.

Who gets NO RAIL under the All Systems Go plan? Not with the starter line, not with the full system, (and definitely NOT with wink-wink we-don’t-mention-it-but-we’re-gonna-give-it-to-you light rail, since if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that it’s precluded by the construction of this commuter rail system)?

Those Dirty Hippies In Urban Austin.

Mike Krusee is not a friend of Austin. He’s not a friend of Capital Metro. He’s not a friend of rail transit. He’s getting transit service for his constituents (who don’t pay) at the expense of the people of Austin who have been consistently demanding urban rail service for decades. Yes, at the expense of the same people who consisently subsidize suburban sprawl through property taxes, sales taxes, and gas taxes. People in Austin now get to pay for BOTH the roads AND the transit of Round Rock, while they get nothing more than a glorified express bus for the actual sensible rail corridor in Austin.

This is why I don’t like Mike Krusee.

Any questions?