Let’s Go To The Movies: Also: Why Nobody Takes The Bus There!

In a happy coincidence, this twitter thread came to me as I was about to take the family over to our go-to theatre; the Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller, to watch a bougie family entertainment (I have kids, sue me; Christopher Robin was good). When I posted some details about our upcoming trip, friend-of-the-crackplog Hunter S Thompson Caleb Pritchard was appropriately dismayed.

More importantly, it’s worth exploring this trip from my house a few blocks on the interior of Hyde Park as an example of how even ‘better’ transit service has a long ways to go, but stay tuned after that; because there’s a little more to it.

Let’s talk time!

From a long time ago, you may remember cheezy minimalist graphics like the ones below, which made their first appearance in the best-est “Why Rapid Bus sucks” post that still holds for a little while longer until the two infill stops are fully integrated. In this case, you can see the components of the trip from my house to the Alamo Drafthouse in Mueller, as follows:

DRIVING TRIP (what we actually did): 7 minute drive, 1 minute to park, 1 minute to walk from the garage to the front door of the theatre.

TRANSIT TRIP (what we could have done): 9 minute (0.4 mile) walk down to 38th and Guadalupe; typical wait of 7.5 minutes for the 335 bus (15 minute frequencies on this route! Best we’ve got!); 14 minute bus trip to the closest stop in Mueller (Berkman and Simond); and an 8 minute (0.4 mile) walk to the theatre’s front door. 1

Now here they are combined on the same graph2.

See a problem yet? Hint: When just the walk to the bus stop from my house (the first part of four on the transit trip) is essentially as long (in time) as the entire driving trip, counting parking the car in the garage and walking from the garage to the theatre, you might not be competitive overall.

Well, you might be tempted to reply, surely the bus is cheaper!

Let’s talk money!

I have bad news for you. The Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller validates parking (which would have been $3.00 for us); but not bus fare. So here’s the way those trips cost out, and note that this is temporarily cheaper for the bus trip as my 2 kids that would normally have had to pay are actually riding free for the remainder of the summer.3

The driving trip costs around 60 cents, thanks to this handy but minimalist commute calculator, originally designed for bike commutes but usable for this purpose, that helpfully excludes bullshit like depreciation and insurance.4. The transit trip would have cost $5.00 (two day passes for the two adults).

So what?

Now for the interesting parts. What would we expect in a better world?

Let’s imagine for a moment that being “transit-oriented” in Austin actually meant what it means in the rest of the world. How would the equation above be different?

For one, the parking garage would have to be less convenient than the transit. This means that the transit needs to drop off in front; and the parking needs to be at least a short walk away (move the transit stop directly in front of the business; leave the parking garage where it is for now, I guess).

For two, the parking can’t be free while the transit costs money. But do you think a business in Mueller as it exists today would be willing to make this trade? Of course not; each and every business in Mueller would die without the influx of cars from neighbors like me. They are nowhere near dense enough (by orders of magnitude) to get the clientele they need from people within walking or biking distance. And don’t forget to remember this when people credulous of the grid redesign cargo cults think they will be great for ridership – the places you’re reorienting service to serve better (your ‘secondary centers’) all have free parking, meaning the competitive transit-versus-driving value proposition is horrible compared to the traditional downtown.

For three, also, the realignment of service for Mueller focused on running things down Berkman, which might be better for the residents, but definitely not for anybody trying to get to the Town Center [sic] from outside the area. If Mueller’s reality matched its promises, transit would go straight to/from the Town Center, and residents would be within a short enough walk that they would want to go there to board buses. The actual reality isn’t that great; Mueller is too spread out, as discussed ad nauseum, so the transit has to run on Berkman.

So the real answer gets to an even more fundamental flaw in Mueller: It tries to be a “center” a la “centers and corridors” from Imagine Austin, but the density it has is nowhere near large enough to justify free transit and expensive parking, so it ends up in the uncanny valley of density. Difficult to drive in, unpleasant and expensive to take transit to, and with a tiny fraction of the people within walking and biking distance that would be required to keep their businesses in business without those drivers and their necessarily subsidized parking.

What’s the solution? Centers have to be orders of magnitude denser than this, so that parking doesn’t have to be free to keep businesses alive, or, you know, stop trying to pound a square peg into a round hole and just resume densification of our existing center where parking already doesn’t have to be free. Either way.

Also, though, please note that for a single person, this particular trip would still have been a dumb financial decision, but not quite as dumbererer as for the whole family. Consider that you have to pay a bus fare for each person (including the kids when the free summer ends), but a car full of 4 dinguses costs the same as for a single dingus driver.

Also also, though, please check out Caleb’s new gig – we expect great things!

(I’ll try to fix this up and flesh it out over the course of the week to make it a little less bare-bones but had to get this out there in case I run out of time. Remember this isn’t my day job and I don’t even have time or the cost-benefit ratio for it to be a frequent hobby anymore. Fuck AURA.)


  1. I’ve used the common practice here of assigning half the ‘headway’ to ‘wait time’ as in – the average time we’d have to wait for the bus if we just show up is 7.5 minutes. The minimum ‘wait’ time for the bus if you plan on a scheduled departure is typically 5 minutes – you’re supposed to give that long in case it’s early. The ‘wait’ time for your car is ALWAYS zero, of course. 

  2. updated on 8/14/2018 to make the phases the same across the bars, but the color scheme is still gonna suck because there’s only so much of my work time I’ll spend on making this pretty for y’all 

  3. details: two day passes at $2.50 each, kids are currently free. 

  4. Note here that even though my company car gives me gas for free, I costed out this trip as if I had to pay for it 

Longtweet about courthouse endorsement by supposed urbanists

I don’t have time or the will to blog on anything these days, but this was too long for twitter, really, although I sort of did it there anyways.

One of the many dishonest paragraphs in AURA’s disappointingly dishonest endorsement of the new courthouse bond is:

Others express concern about using a parcel that is unencumbered by Capitol View Corridors. Capitol View Corridors limit the height in some parts of the city so that the State Capitol can be seen from a number of angles. There are ways to mitigate this problem. One approach is state legislative action. A second approach is for the Austin City Council to expand the number of blocks in downtown or near downtown entitled for central business district-style development.

It is true that others have expressed concern about CVCs. And it’s true that getting them modified is very very hard.

It’s also true that if getting the CVC preventing full use of the blocks around the existing courthouse is hard, like, running a marathon hard, getting more blocks around downtown zoned CBD is hard like running a marathon underwater without a scuba tank or snorkel while being attacked by sharks hard.

It’s fundamentally dishonest (in the disingenous) sense to just answer, as Julio has done, “we should expand downtown” as if it’s some kind of answer to the “they didn’t try very hard to get CVCs out of the way so they could use one of the several existing blocks that don’t generate tax revenue and are already owned by the county and already on the transit spine”. It’s basically the equivalent of a repeating gag on one of my favorite new shows, modified here with my favorite tools: google image search, cut and paste, and MSPaint. Nothing but the best thing zero dollars, zero skill, zero talent, and negative five minutes can buy is good enough for the artistic sensibilities of my readers!

poop

poop2

fred_savage_thats_insane

poop3

poop4

#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

Rapid Bus has degraded bus service overall

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.

052512_wheatsville_1479950a

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.

20140905capmetrotripplanner1

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?

20140905stackchart

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.


  1. Chris Bradford bait 

  2. most people would not consider this “frequent” and thus probably wouldn’t even consider the ‘show up and go’ approach, but let’s keep going 

Project Connect Phase 1 Document Revealed!

I discovered this today, and it clearly shows Project Connect did, in fact, 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.

20140320ProjectConnectBracket

Project Connect Phase 1 Lie Number 1

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.
if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.

They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, apoplexy I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.

The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.
Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.

At the time, cheapest on November 1st, see I made this post, which asserted that there was no way this decision was being made to ‘serve’ West Campus; that, in fact, it was being made to avoid having to serve West Campus (which would obviously imply a route on Guadalupe).

Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.

From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:

20140221_PC_Campus_Area

Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!

But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?

Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).

Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.

First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:

20140221_21SJ_TO_WC

 

0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.

Now let’s try 24th.

20140221_24SJ_TO_WC

 

0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.

Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:

20140221_DKSJ_TO_WC

 

 

 

Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.

Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.

Lie-stamp

West Campus, UT, and “The Core”

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.

February 25, check 2000 in the Chronicle:

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).

lowceiling

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.

NAILED IT!
Top is ideal, generic bottom is as inevitably implemented; and how it will be on the Drag in Austin

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.
Yes, patient I know I never got to “the formula”. Things went to hell at work. But I can’t pass on the chance to pass along this link. Relevant quote first:

The takeaway here is that it’s better for transit to be reactionary – that is, cardiology serving travel demand that already exists – than it is for it to be anticipatory – that is, this web serving travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future.

Relevance to Austin is that the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor has travel demand that already exists today; AND an equal or greater amount of travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future than Mueller. Despite this, certain elements at the city and Capital Metro are, as we speak, stacking the deck in favor of a supposedly data-driven decision for Mueller over Lamar/Guadalupe (the latest effort to do so involves eliminating “West Campus” as a separate subcorridor and instead lumping it in with “Core”, which basically allows a Mueller route to pretend to serve West Campus by touching somewhere in the (now very very large) “Core” box – as if somebody living a few blocks west of Guadalupe would ever walk all the way to San Jacinto just to ride a train two miles or so back to downtown – the trip would be quicker if they just walked straight there). But I digress.

Full story here: Make Your Light Rail Look Like LA’s
This has come up frequently in the past in regards to the idiocy of claiming that major retail belongs out on the frontage road (where I have claimed in the past that it’s impossible to practically provide good transit service). Here’s a much better version than my previous one, pilule and as a bonus, remedy MS Paint was still tangentially involved!

(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff’s excellent transit portal, hospital almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways – where property access is maintained via the construction of new “frontage roads” which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).

Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the “how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road”. Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn’t match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.

First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:


Then, the driving directions, which look like this:


Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let’s look at the satellite image:


(Get more current satellite view here)

Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem – if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing – which on a normal street wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent – you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn’t run very often either.

Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area – ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.

For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit – and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn’t biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again – that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.

And, yes, there’s a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.
Folks, store the deck is being stacked against rail on Lamar/Guadalupe – as I alliuded to yesterday – the data-driven process is being co-opted by the people who want and need it to go to Mueller for political reasons. leading to a set of ridiculous assertions in the map book, and then a set of ridiculous changes TO the map book when the map book wasn’t ridiculous enough the first time.

The only thing that you can do right now to help right this is to sign this petition. Please do so as soon as possible. Stay tuned for further actions.
So I spent about three hours around lunch yesterday for a 1.75 hour meeting moderated by AURA where we could ask questions of Project Connect staff. One of my questions was following up Lyndon Henry by complaining that the size of the subcorridors (or in Lyndon’s better term, discount “sectors”) was ludicrous and pushing us away from a more sensible decision-making process.

At one point later on, pulmonologist a very good pal of mine who is working on the program answered John Lawler (UT student government)’s question about why that decision was made to suddenly include UT and West Campus with the Core with a blistering diatribe about how inappropriate and offensive it was to be so cynical about the motives behind said change, while occasionally looking right at yours truly. Message received, loud and clear. (Not just by me; others asked me if I thought you were speaking to John or to me when you went there).

Before I link to my brand new slide deck you just motivated me to write this morning, know this: Before this meeting, I only mentioned this change in an aside in a couple of places. I never talked to the University Area Partners or Mr. Lawler; they didn’t get their complaints from me. If anything, I may actually have heard about it from them, indirectly. I was like the tenth person in the scene to even notice the change.

But by incorrectly assuming that just because it was a complaint, it must have been only from me, or by trying to score points by making an attack about it by tying it to me, whom you presumed was held in low regard by the room, you just brought me into it. Congratulations, now I’m all-in.

If your (paid to do this) feelings were hurt by the implication that the motivation for the change might have been less than aboveboard, consider the converse: I took vacation time to spend my lunch hour only to get attacked by you (who, again, unlike me, is getting paid to do this).

Click the little expanders in the lower right to embiggen.

 

 

The last gif is animated in my version but not on slideshare. Imagine Colbert sarcastically clapping, or don’t.