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I tweeted about this yesterday and due to time constraints will just copy it here via storify.
In yesterday’s post, steroids seek I showed that transit service along our best VMU corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe) has been significantly degraded by the introduction of Rapid Bus. Along this corridor, bronchi you used to be able to count on “show up and go” local service, but now you absolutely cannot.
The vast majority of tracts directly abutting the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are eligible for VMU development like the one I used as an example in yesterdays post, based on an ordinance passed back in 2008.1 The arguments in favor of VMU on core transit corridors, made by people including yours truly, rested on the premise that because there was frequent, useful, transit there, we should allow denser development and reduce parking requirements for that development. Since we could assume that a larger percentage of tenants of those buildings would be willing to use transit than for the city as a norm, in other words, we would not listen to the complaints of the nearby neighborhoods that they’d all be driving on Lamar and Guadalupe every day making their lives more miserable.
Now it’s 2014, and this statement:
On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful
is NO LONGER TRUE.
If we were debating the set of attempts by neighborhoods along Guadalupe and Lamar to opt-out of the VMU ordinance today, in other words, it would not be honest to make the statement above.
So what, you say? Well, remember, the VMU ordinance and the approval/rejection of the opt-in and opt-outs were not unanimously done by committed urbanists. The council at the time had one committed urbanist, one urbanist with some checkered history, one anti-urbanist, and four moderates.
Do you know what sold those four on VMU? Over the objections of neighborhood associations that tried to opt out of almost everything? After all, Hyde Park’s neighborhood association attempted to opt out of essentially all of Guadalupe!
So what worked with those four moderates? It was this:
On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful
Note that we do not need to count how many people in apartments on Lamar/Guadalupe use transit to understand this point. Politically speaking, the presence of useful frequent transit allowed those moderates to make what we urbanists consider the “right decision” and not only pass this ordinance but expend political capital to reject attempts by Hyde Park and other neighborhood associations to wiggle out of it.
So now that the useful, frequent, service is gone, what happens? Most VMU projects along Lamar/Guadalupe are still very attractvie, of course; developers will pretty much build to the maximum entitlements on these corridors today given the vast demand for rental housing. But when neighborhoods find pretextual objections (and they will; nothing is ever cut and dry), future councils will be more likely to side with the neighborhoods than the urbanists, because, once again, transit service on Lamar and Guadalupe is no longer ‘frequent and useful’.
What are we likely to see instead, assuming the neighbors win more of those battles, and since we’ve decided to destroy local bus service on Lamar/Guadalupe in favor of more expensive but less useful express service? Hello, Steven Zettner’s vision of density ONLY near the major intersections (where the rapid bus stops happen to be located). No longer will we see 4 or 5 story VMU buildings along the entire corridor; instead, we’ll see 4 or 5 story buildings near the Rapid stops, and decaying single-story strip malls in the rest.2 The ‘moderates’ in the future city council will vote the neighborhood association’s way when in doubt, because, again, useful and frequent transit is no longer part of the equation.
To the right is the “Core Transit Corridors” map used to kick off VMU planning back in 2007. Note the complete absence of Highland, by the way. Honestly, only the two Rapid Bus corridors have seen any significant VMU development (East Riverside is starting to show some signs, with major flaws).
Thus, this affects not only Lamar/Guadalupe, but also South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar (which were the other corridors that got nearly completely zoned VMU mostly over neighbors’ objections).
Does that sound important to you yet? Well, we’re getting there. Next up: Urban rail.
I was hoping to have found a map of properties along this corridor eligible for VMU, but they may have aged off, and I’m not particular good with the city’s GIS. If somebody feels like doing some work, let me know. ↩
Don’t be foolish enough to think we can upzone near the rapid stops to make up for the decline of the whole corridor, in other words; we’re not going to get 20 story buildings around the stops there to make up for 1 story elsewhere; we’ll be lucky if we can get 4 or 5 ↩
This VMU on Lamar at North Loop (google maps link; as of 9/5/2014 the streetview picture is from construction) is open now. I like it. It has a bus stop right in front of it! Streetscape is good. There’s actually a new Taco Cabana across North Loop from it, unfortunately with a drive-thru, where the pretty image to the right has a grassy field1. The property to the south of the Taco Cabana appears ripe for redevelopment soon as another VMU; I’d be surprised not to see it go that way within a couple of years.
Let’s imagine the resident of one of these new apartments wants to take the bus to Wheatsville Co-Op, an urban grocer located at about 31st and Guadalupe. Lots of people used to ride the bus to Wheatsville last I checked.
For background, the VMU ordinance was enacted as a quid-pro-quo for the McMansion ordinance – the logic was that we would build tall apartments (for Austin, anyways) over walkable retail on corridors where transit frequencies and usefulness was high. Lamar/Guadalupe definitely fit that bill, at least originally.
Before the implementation of “Rapid Bus”, the #1 ran about every 13 minutes during peak periods on this route. Google maps says that the bus portion of this trip takes 8 minutes on the #1. Note that Google doesn’t even consider the 801 a viable option for this trip, unlike Capital Metro themselves. We’ll get to that in a minute.
We can use the same “show up and go” calculations from this post to come up with this graph. Short summary: If transit service is to be truly useful as a replacement for the car, it needs to be frequent enough that you don’t bother to check a schedule; you just show up at the stop and a bus comes pretty soon (and by the way this was one of the big marketing points for the #801; so this isn’t just a condition I’m placing on them to be mean). Note that the walking time on either end for the #1 trip is essentially zero – there are bus stops for the #1 (but not the #801) directly in front of the VMU building and the grocer.
Originally, when frequency was every 13 minutes, a trip to the grocery store would involve a 0 minute walk, an average 6.5 minute wait (half of frequency), and a 8 minute trip on the bus, for an expected trip time of 14.5 minutes. Not bad.
However, in the world we live in now, Capital Metro has cut half of the #1s and imposed instead the #801 in place of the #101, stealing the local frequency for the express. How does that service work for our apartment resident?
Same calculations as above – we end up with an expected wait of 13 minutes (it runs every 26 minutes during peak)2. Total trip time is now 21 minutes, if you can get a seat on this bus, which has been a problem ever since the 801 change happened.
But surely the 801 made up for this drop in service, right?
Again, Google won’t even give this as a trip; but Capital Metro’s trip planner does.
Huh. Cap Metro expects the user of this ‘service’ to walk about a half mile north to the “Brentwood Station”, wait (12 minute frequencies during peak), ride the bus to the “Hyde Park Station” (7 minutes), then walk about a half mile south to Wheatsville. Hey Google, how long will those walks take? Google says 8 minutes each, roughly.
So let’s graph those new trips, shall we?
The results show that, and all of this is compared to the conditions before the #801 started (“old #1” in the graph), a resident of this apartment building can now either pay the same amount of money for a much less frequent service (#1) that will now take about 50% longer to get where they want to go, or they can pay double the price for a reasonably frequent service (#801) that will take more than twice as long to go where they want to go. People boarding a bus at this stop and travelling to Wheatsville have seen a significant degradation in quality of bus service.
What’s the conclusion? Well, even if you are foolish enough to think a 26 minute frequency local service still qualifies as “show up and go”, the residents of this VMU and many others in the area are unquestionably much worse off after the implementation of MetroRapid. And what’s worse – the developments resulting from the VMU ordinance were sold to surrounding neighborhoods as less of an impact on their daily lives because we all assumed many of its residents would ride the bus.
Still true? Doubt it.
More to come.
This is the last monthly data we get before Big Changes make for a big discontinuity in the graphs. December is, phimosis as Capital Metro wants to make sure you know, view a low ridership month. As usual, site click for larger versions. Analysis follows the pictures.
I almost made this response on the twitter but thought it should be more permanent.
Trying to figure out where to put a rail line in a city where you have lots of unmet transit demand and an inadequate funding stream to do everything you want to do? IE, buy information pills you live in the real world?
PUT YOUR RAIL LINE WHERE IT REQUIRES THE LEAST POSSIBLE OPERATING SUBSIDY.
It’s just that simple.
Don’t talk about disrupting traffic. Don’t talk about TOD. Don’t talk about bridges or tunnels.
If you put your rail line where it requires a very large operating subsidy, you end up having to cut bus service to make up the budgetary impact. This is what Capital Metro had to do during the early days of the Red Line. Both the best 98x buses and the 9 bus were cancelled to make up for operating subsidy overruns from the Red Line. Only today is the operating subsidy anywhere close to the original budget (and it’s still monstrously high – something like $20/ride). We’d have more buses running more routes today if the Red Line had never been built, in other words. The presence of the Red Line means that the people of Austin have less transit today than they otherwise would have. This is how you can tell it was a BAD RAIL LINE.
If you put your rail line where it requires a very small operating subsidy (ideally less than existing bus service1, you end up having MORE money to spend on more buses elsewhere, or on the next rail line. The best way to find that corridor is to find a corridor where a ton of people ride the bus, and where research indicates even more people would ride the train (because it’s more comfortable and reliable than the bus is today).
Anybody who wants to make it more complicated than that is trying to confuse you and get you to support a rail line that you should not support.
Hey, you ask. What about my second rail line?
Go back to the beginning of this post and repeat. The same, simple, formula works for every single rail line your city will ever build. Pick the corridor where the rail line will have the lowest possible operating subsidy. Rinse. Repeat.
Third rail line? Is it more complicated yet? NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST AGAIN.
NO. NO. GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. This simple process works for every rail line – it tells you which one you should do next.
This is how you build an actual network instead of a struggling disaster like we have in Austin. Again, anybody who tells you it’s not this simple is trying to fool you into supporting something that’s not in your best interest. They have ulterior motives, like, for instance, being on the board of a community college which took over a decaying mall2. Or wanting to make a medical school look shinier.
By the way, if you follow this process, you don’t need to lie about your conversations with the Federal Transit Administration either. Hint.
Now I’m off to Germany. Where they actually use logic like the above. Which is why their rail networks actually, you know, work.
I discovered this today, more about and it clearly shows Project Connect did, dosage in fact, buy rate the top four options against each other (and some others we hadn’t heard of) in a tournament, of sorts, to get to where we are now. It’s a shame it took this long for this proof to be revealed; I regret all my complaints up to this point. Click on the image for the full-size version.
One way you can tell whether your city is ready for rail at all is whether you can find a corridor where rail would lower the operating subsidy compared to existing bus service. If you have no such corridor, you might not be a good candidate for rail, yet! ↩
Hello Highland Mall!). Or, for instance, not wanting to be politically embarassed about previous bad decisions ((The real reason for no G/L is this embarassment. Future blog post will show comments about the Federal Transit Administration are misleading at best; lies at worst ↩
to which I do not know how much energy I shall devote as it appears to be oriented towards an effort to get buy-in from the more general public who doesn’t even understand transit rather than correcting their horrible process so far. But consider this a cry for reinforcements, store and an argument against civility at the expense of policy. I don’t know if I’ll even be involved this time.
Tonight SHOULD be about the citizens of Austin telling the planners that you see through this bullshit exercise in expensive obfuscation that the machinery of the city1 and Capital Metro2 have collectively foisted on you to try to make previous plans look less stupid. It SHOULD be impossible for the ringleaders to successfully pull off a propaganda coup. But are enough of you going to be willing to fight; to be uncivil?
Me, right now, I’m rapidly becoming disillusioned about the prospects of anything improving life in Austin as even most of the people on ‘my side’ of the rail debate in Austin continue to be more interested in staying friends with the gladhanding jackasses who got us to this point than doing the right thing3 . Yes, there are still far too many people who think JMVC is their buddy; who trust the lying smile from the guy paid to mislead you more than the asshole who tells the truth, because the paid misleader shakes your hand once a week and is at all the right meetings and all the right events, while the asshole is just an unpaid hobbyist you mostly hear from on the internet who can’t devote significant time to the meetingocracy as he continues to fail to find a job downtown4 and must, therefore, ‘participate’ almost exclusively electronically from his desk near godawful Westlake High.5 There are still far too many people who won’t go out on a limb in public beyond modestly suggesting ‘this is slightly less than optimal’ while thanking the people who produced the misleading propaganda for their hard work; and then attack the manners of those like me who keep wanting to point out the Emperor’s bare ass. And there are still far too many theoretically pro-transit people who will line up behind an unquestionably bad policy decision because they think it’s good politics.
Why thank Project Connect for all their hard work when it was done in the service of a transparently obviously rigged process designed to subvert good planning and the will of the people? If you’re a Democrat, do you go thank George Bush’s staff for working so hard to help him achieve his goals, when you disagree with both the goal and the method? I’m struggling to find better analogies but I find this incomprehensible – lots of people do hard work for bad actors; do they really deserve our THANKS in the process? When they KNOW they’re doing bad work and misleading people? (This is not an opinion, people; there’s no other rational explanation for some of PC’s whoppers. When the reaction of people who watch transit planning all over the country is “#WhatASham” or “I’m going to use this as an example of bad transit planning forever”, does anybody honestly expect thanks?)
That being said, it brings up an interesting parallel – there were many people in Congress who worked to pass Obamacare knowing it was the politically wrong thing to do but it was the right thing for the country. Many of these people were warned it might serve as the end of their political career. It certainly burned up all of Obama’s political capital.
As I recall, though, more than one was uncharacteristically honest about it – “if not for this, then why are we here?” at least one said. Why bother to accumulate the political power if it only leads to attempting to maintain or enhance said power, instead of doing the things that you were sent to do? Doesn’t mean you die on every hill; but if you’re not willing to die on ANY hill, why are you even there?
The same is true here. What good is it to remain friends with the consultantocracy and the gladhanding jackasses if, at the end, the big payoff is a rail line to Highlandmueller with 8,000 boardings/day, and it’s 2040 before we can start to have another rail conversation?
If you’re falling in line because it’s good politics, in what world do you think we get to build a second urban rail line before those of us my age are dead, when the first line has 8,000 boardings a day? When we need somewhere in the low 20,000s to be considered a moderate success worth building off of?
Was the Red Line worth this very same compromise, which so many took in 2004 and urged me to take? I’d argue you’d be an idiot to think so today, but in fact, many still think so, despite the fact that it’s reached its ceiling at a whopping 2000 boardings/day; despite the fact that its monstrously high operating subsidies to mostly non-Austinites from mostly non-taxpaying cities have led to cuts in bus service for the people who pay >90% of Capital Metro’s bills. How was that a good policy decision, if it didn’t lead to another serious rail conversation until 2014; and if even then, we can’t have an honest POLICY decision about the next rail line – we still have to play idiot politics so certain people don’t look stupid about overselling the reality of Rapid Bus or Mueller? And how can those people think they made the right decision back in 2004? Hell if I know; I’m just a guy who can spend an hour every other week on this, but it sure seems obvious to me. Why is this so goddamn hard?
After I gave my short speech at the CCAG, I was actually lectured by a well-connected insider / former neighbor; and then later by a UT VP; that the fault for any lack of rail on Guadalupe/Lamar is mine, presumably for daring to continue to have contrary opinions on this and voicing them publically, which is Bad Form, instead of swallowing my objections and joining the meetingocracy.6 That it’s my fault that they have not been convinced – or in another sense, that the job in Westlake; raising three kids; trying to keep a company afloat and a couple of teams from being laid off; that these are all not valuable things to these people; and thus their inability to be convinced of what every transit professional from around the country finds inherently obvious is my fault because I haven’t quit those other responsibilities and spent months producing essentially the same research other allies already have only to have it ignored in favor of the continuous examples of ‘mistakes’, other faulty data and the rigged analysis produced by full-time people being paid to mislead the public.
I don’t have much more energy for this; and I’m not optimistic. At the end of this, I expect most of my putative allies on the G/L side to say “well, we tried” and go back to the consultantocracy, welcomed with open arms because they didn’t fight too hard.
Fuck that. Either fight hard or sell out; but don’t tell me you’re doing the first when you’re really doing the second. And you can’t fight at this point by staying friends with Project Connect; they are now the enemy. The place we have to win now is the City Council, because the CCAG has already made up their minds, and if we don’t get the City Council to FORCE them to change, it’s a done deal for Highlandmueller. This is going to require fighting to various degrees – Project Connect is a lost cause. If you could convince me of a rational path which includes “continuing to treat Project Connect like rational actors who are doing a good job and not trying to mislead people” and ends with victory, you’d have done so by now.
Back when I thought the order was communications, migraine THEN decision; the speech I was going to give in outline form:
A comment I posted to this PR fluff piece by Movability:
What you need to know is that this REDUCES frequency for current 1/101 riders north of the river, more about because the 1L is being eliminated along with the 101. If you’re boarding at a stop served by both the 1 and 101 today, bronchi the same total number of 1 and 801 buses will stop there in the future; the mix will just change to fewer 1s. If you’re boarding at a stop served only by the 1L/1M today, you’re going to lose half your buses.
What you need to know is that this was projected to be no faster than the 101 in early plans, and now data sent to google maps actually shows it being slower than the 101 (not sure if this is legitimate or a hiccup, but it’s not a good sign).
And finally, what you need to know is that this will cost riders a lot more to ride. Despite the fact that the 1 route was quite likely the least subsidized bus route in the city before this change, fares are going up due to this change (the 801 will cost quite a bit more than the 1 did).
curiously, not city council itself, which has been to this point almost completely uninvolved in this process beyond the Mayor; see the end of the post for more ↩
somewhat likewise as with the city, although their leadership is a little more bought-in to this than the city’s is ↩
some will chide me that I give people like this guy way too much importance; that they aren’t decision-makers. True in a sense; but they are constantly in the ears of the decision-makers, and constantly in the ears of the media (except for one or two notable exceptions, and in one case, he’s actually convinced everybody on the pro-transit side that the media member was the problem to the point where I’m pretty sure I’m the only rail advocate who will even talk to the guy). Or they may say that nothing is served by fighting guys like that, but I firmly disagree; because NOT fighting guys like that gives him his power, which he then uses to co-opt you into providing legitimacy for this illegitimate process that will produce the predestined result. I say wait until this gladhanding jackass in question has convinced some members of the media and some council staff that you’re a troll before you judge me for caring about this too much. ↩
note: it would have been a lot easier to do this if we had GOOD rail heading downtown and it wasn’t so ridiculous for non-single-website heavier-duty software companies to locate there ↩
yes, this is part of the reason for the bile. God, I hate Westlake so much. ↩
these are people who actually believe, or profess to believe, that you get rail on Guadalupe right after you build a massive failure to Highlandmueller; and thus if you push too hard now you’ll not get rail on Guadalupe, which is ridiculous as rail on Highlandmueller, guaranteed failure that it is, assures we won’t see rail on Guadalupe/Lamar until I’m long dead ↩
My work situation is going to prevent me from making much effort on this today so please assume I endorse this product and/or service 100%.
No, and the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, bronchi in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.
I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.
is very low.
I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.
The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, gynecologist serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)
The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.
The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.
You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.
Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).
This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.
* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.
Don’t bother clicking to embiggen. I had to make that in five seconds with PowerPoint.
Original for lower picture from StreetsBlog; I forget where I got the upper.
(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:
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”.
Compare to an existing southbound local bus stop pretty much right across the street:
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:
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!”.
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.