Density and transit service, in pictures

In 2011, this bus stop had buses stopping every 10-15 minutes during peak times; it was the highest ridership route in the system by far. Click through for streetview source so you can verify.



By 2011, this tract had been rezoned VMU (Vertical Mixed-Use).

By 2013, construction was actually underway.

In 2014, service to this stop was slashed to once every 30 minutes at peak.

This is what this stop looks like today, in 2018, when it still only sees a bus once every 30 minutes at peak:



Should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service?

On Halloween 2018, this VMU development still sees bus service once every half an hour during peak times. The closest frequent service is at the Triangle and the other side of 2222; both outside the normal 1/4 mile walkshed appropriate for bus service. There are some medium-term plans to finally add a stop which keep getting delayed. But it’s now been five years since this complex was built; and more like ten years since it was rezoned to a more transit-supportive land use. During all that time, everybody that moved into this complex didn’t get useful bus service. Decisions were made by thousands of individuals relating to car purchases; decisions were made by the apartment management about how to market themselves; based on the fact that by 2014 they knew they’d have a bus once every half an hour. Those decisions have long-term impact that will last well beyond the date when the new ‘station’ finally arrives.

Again, should you trust that Capital Metro will respond to land use changes with better transit service? In 2011, they provided frequent service to a stop at a strip mall. When the city did their land use job and put a bunch of residents directly on top of a bus stop on a well-used route, Capital Metro cut their transit service to nearly useless levels and left it that way for five years and counting.

Don’t forget this. AURA will try to tell you it’s all about land use. Show them this example and get them to explain how it applies.

Hello Bikeness My Old Friend: Part III, Or Getting Your Money’s Worth From Google Maps

(Overview Post Here)

In the last installment we ended up on Polyanna Avenue, where certain urbanists always live despite constantly being wrong.

The pictures in this post come from the commute home on Wednesday October 8th (and I went back and filled some images in the first section as well, taken on this same day).

Now for the next bit. Heading from north to south; you basically need to get from Walnut Creek across Braker Lane and your endpoint should be Georgian at Rundberg (Georgian, give or take, is the start of the long bike route that turns into the two lane part of Guadalupe).

Here’s what Google recommends as the route for the whole section.

Route map from Walnut Creek to Georgian/Rundberg, original Google version
Looks chill. Wonder if it works.

The northern part of this route matches Google’s recommendations. Whitewing is a nice slow uphill with plenty of shade and interesting houses to look at. Must have been a nice place at some point before the I-35 noise got to where it is now. Then, you end up having to take a sharp left, pedal a short deathly uphill (I’m a wimp for hills), to get to the final bit of Polyanna that takes you to Braker. Here’s some shots along the way…

View of conditions on Whitewing Ave
Typical view on Whitewing
Looking back north on Whitewing
Looking back north on Whitewing
View of hill up Thrush
Short sharp hill up Thrush. M1EK hate hills.

Crossing Braker is not a joyful experience. You need to get to the other side and start on Middle Fiskville Road, which is 100 feet or so west of the I-35 frontage road. You have two options here; either go to the frontage road and cross there (if you decide to cross there, do it as a pedestrian and then you have to do some sidewalk riding to get back west), or wait for a break in traffic and cut across to the median opening, then wait until the rush hour traffic completely stops and wind through the cars to the bike lane and use it for about 50 feet east. This actually worked out better than the frontage road option as it didn’t require any sidewalk riding but YMMV. Without the rush hour stoppage of the cars I think the pedestrian option is better.

Southbound Pollyana looking at Braker
Lovely view approaching Braker on Pollyana

Then you get a brief fast run down Middle Fiskville Road, parallel and close to I-35. Wave at me as you drive. This is OK except on most days you’re gonna lose most of your velocity to a headwind and have to go to granny gear to finish the uphill (again I’m a baby on hills). Right turn on Grady Dr, left turn on Brownie Dr, usually cars in the way that prevent an easy transition here.

View of Middle Fiskville Road southbound approaching Grady
Middle Fiskville near end of uphill (facing southbound, nearing Grady)
Middle Fiskville looking back (northbound) towards Braker
Middle Fiskville looking back (northbound) towards Braker

Brownie is a downhill through areas that are the ANC’s stereotypical density nightmare (car-dependent fourplexes that have gone to pot). Still better than riding up north though. Frustratingly, you lose the ability to coast on a downhill due to a dumbass 4-way stop (this happens a lot more later). No pictures here.

Then, Google fails you. The recommended route has you going through “Brownie Neighborhood Park” which doesn’t really exist. Instead there’s a road which heads to a closed and locked gate for the charter school that took over the old Showplace Lanes bowling alley. No way through here; backtrack and ask how much you paid for these directions.

annotated google map showing closed section of road
thanks, obama
View down the actually closed road that Google recommended
Don’t believe the directions here. This is a dead-end unless you are going to pick up a kid at the charter school! And the gate was closed/locked both times so I have no idea what times it’s actually open.

Instead, you have to continue and turn on Oriole, and I was prepared to run THIS route based on pre-exploring the route in my company car previously:

Second google desktop recs
Second google rec has you going down N Creek Dr and then Rundberg. But the mobile directions on the bike take you on route 370. Weird.

Oddly enough, when on the bike, you instead get recommended Route 370 in the city bike network, which requires a short stub of sidewalk + grass into Walnut Creek Elementary. (I have no idea why the desktop directions don’t let you do this; I’ve helpfully drawn the difference; but I will eventually try the Google route as honestly the Rundberg traffic heading west in the afternoon isn’t too bad to scare me away from a right turn and a quick move to the left turn lane, just haven’t tried it yet).

Annotated map of actual final route I took through Walnut Creek Elementary
Why, google desktop, won’t you let me do what I want here?

The elementary school is likely locked up most of the school day, so this is not an option unless you are going home about when I did both times so far (about 4:45 by this point). Short section where you are like “thanks for routing me in the mud and grass and hope I didn’t take a road bike, google and the City of Austin bike route map”, and then you end up on the road that turns into Georgian. Aaaah.

view down dead-end street leading to elementary school
Bike route 370 takes you through what sure looks like a dead-end…
sidewalk for route 370
Nothing says “bike route” like being forced onto a narrow sidewalk…
looking back at sharp sidewalk turn on 370
Nice sharp turn you have to navigate to get on this, errr, bike route
dirt path at Walnut Creek elementary
Hope you weren’t riding a road bike today!
Gates at Georgian entrance to Walnut Creek Elementary
Probably not a great general-purpose bike route if they lock these gates during the day…

Last sections later this week.

Hello Bikeness My Old Friend Part II: Overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

overview from Google Maps

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

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

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

Drake memes for idiot teens
Drake says no to Parmer

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

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

Polyanna Avenue
AURA membership meeting location

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

sweaty old man on porch


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

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