The ceiling for the Red Line

Later this week, physiotherapist stay tuned for a new formula which takes into account service quality (measured by miles per hour), traumatologist frequency, and, and this is the new part, end-user payment (fare).

Hint: MetroRapid’s going to cost $1.75 each way. Today’s #1 service costs $1 and today’s #101 service costs $1.50. Next year, the #1 will be cut in half and go up to $1.25; while MetroRapid will replace the #101, add frequency to the few stops it serves, and cost $1.75.
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, illness 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, pharm serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, website like this 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.

Where did the missing 2000 riders go?

Image of Mueller "Market District" from 2010
Urban or suburban?

This image is from the 2010 presentation of the Mueller “market district”. The big box in the lower right is the grocery store, physician which is now apparently going to be an HEB.

But the most important question by far: will it be urban or suburban? Let’s ask our old friend David Sucher of City Comforts:

Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot
Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot

 

As Chris put it,

The parking lot will be much nicer than average, but this makes the development merely suburban chic not urban.

Sadly, par for the course for our supposed ‘new urban showcase’. I’ve covered Mueller irregularly in the past as has Chris. Notice we’re in 2011 now; no sign of the Town Center; relatively little multi-family development; but the single-family homes and strip malls – they are still there and doing fine. Sigh.

As for how green and sustainable this will be, what with energy efficiency, water efficiency, etc.; a wise ass man on twitter once said this:

Green building vs. sustainability
I set up this new site in January and did the big import back then and promptly failed to finish. It’s still a work in progress but I plan on posting new content here now and migrating the January-through-August content over when I get some time. My friend Baba’s done a great favor to me over the years by hosting this blog; but since I got tired of Movable Type and have had my own hosting for quite a while, esophagitis it seemed like time to get my act in gear – especially since I finally got the crackpot sports blog up and running a few weeks ago over here already.

The current masthead as of 9/1 is a real picture of the downtown station my stepson took for me while we did a quick detour on the way to Austin High so I could count riders one morning last Spring. It was glorious. Click below for the full image.

phthisiatrician unaltered – sometime in the spring” src=”http://m1ek.dahmus.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/JustinPhone-068-150×150.jpg” alt=”Talk about 1000 words” width=”150″ height=”150″ />
Talk about 1000 words

I set up this new site in January and did the big import back then and promptly failed to finish. It’s still a work in progress but I plan on posting new content here now and migrating the January-through-August content over when I get some time. My friend Baba’s done a great favor to me over the years by hosting this blog; but since I got tired of Movable Type and have had my own hosting for quite a while, visit it seemed like time to get my act in gear – especially since I finally got the crackpot sports blog up and running a few weeks ago over here already.

The current masthead as of 9/1 is a real picture of the downtown station my stepson took for me while we did a quick detour on the way to Austin High so I could count riders one morning last Spring. It was glorious. Here’s the full link:
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, more about 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 a few more people on slightly fewer peak-time 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 many tens of thousands of people who live and/or work within walking distance of the 2000 route who Capital Metro assured us would cheerfully ride shuttlebuses not, in fact, 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:

 

 

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Shuttle Buses

Here’s what those of us who live or work in Central Austin are getting out of commuter rail. Stations in far east Austin and the Convention Center, with a handy transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus to get you to where you might actually want to go. Image below is from one of two new documents up at the Future Connections Study site:

Capital Metro is starting rail service here in Austin in a couple of years NOT by doing what success stories like Portland and Dallas did (light rail straight through and to the densest parts of town) but what South Florida did (commuter rail where tracks already exist, requiring transfers to shuttle buses to actually get anywhere). Fifteen years later, Tri-Rail in South Florida is an unmitigated disaster: no choice commuters despite heavy promotion by an enthusiastic community, no transit-oriented development despite heavy subsidization (below-market attempts at land sales around stations and the like). Unlike in Dallas and Portland (and Minneapolis and Houston and Denver and Salt Lake…), drivers in South Florida aren’t trying Tri-Rail because they know that transferring to shuttle buses every day for your commute overwhelms any speed advantage the train might have bought you up to that point.

In short, commuter rail as your starter line just plain doesn’t work. And the picture ought to make it clear why – even the nominally downtown station is too far from the 6th/Congress intersection for most people to walk, and all other major activity centers in our area will require people to say hey, I’ll drive to the park-and-ride, board a train, get off the train, get on a bus, wait in traffic with all the other cars, get off the bus, and walk to my office. Even promotional images used in the pro-commuter-rail campaign show that they expect downtown workers to have to transfer to shuttle buses, as seen below.


Notice in the handouts that they’re still pretending that all options are on the table. But believe me, there is zero chance that light rail will end up as the circulator, and near-zero chance that streetcars will make it, not that streetcars would work anyways. It’s going to be shuttle-buses in mixed-traffic. Mark my words.

Commuter Rail Is Not Light Rail, Part 851

Or: A letter I just wrote to the Statesman which they probably won’t publish:

Many of your readers and a significant number of public boosters of the commuter rail proposal on the ballot November 2nd appear to be confused as to the nature of the project. Referring to cities such as Salt Lake City and Portland as rail success stories is misleading in this context, ince those cities are succeeding with LIGHT RAIL (like we narrowly voted down in 2000), not COMMUTER RAIL. The only recent example of a system like the one we’re voting on comes from South Florida – it relies exclusively on “high-frequency circulators” (shuttle buses) while all the success stories mentioned have stations within walking distance of existing offices and shops. South Florida’s line has been an unmitigated disaster that after 15 years still carries only 12,000 passengers a day on a far longer corridor than the one we’re contemplating building.

How you’ll use commuter rail

Or won’t, if like most people you don’t like shuttle buses.

At the last panel at which I spoke (LBJ school), Scott Polikov claimed that the commuter rail line DOES stop within walking distance of most of downtown. I’ve cut and pasted the image off the flier for showing the downtown station for commuter rail. Notice the labels on the shuttle buses on the right. From front: CAPITOL, DOWNTOWN, UT

This also marks the first post to this blog where I’ve included a picture. Man, I’m slipping.

Today’s panel

Some observations from today’s panel at the LBJ school:

I was the only one talking about the actual alignment of the route, the location of the stations, and unimportant stuff like that, for obvious reasons.

I did not enjoy my exchanges with Scott Polikov(from the pro-commuter rail contingent, a former Capital Metro board member). Jim Skaggs was his usual self, and Jim Walker was about the same as he was at the Austin Neighborhoods Council panel a few weeks ago.

David Foster (with whom I shared a panel last week at the UT planning school as well as the first panel at the Austin Neighborhoods Council) understands that I want rail and just have some experience which leads me to believe that we should be even more scared of a successful election + unsuccessful ridership than we should of an unsuccessful election (he disagrees, but he at least keeps it on that level). He and Jim Walker both admit that this plan is about as far from ideal as you can get while still calling it “rail”; they disagree with me about the idea that it precludes light-rail down the original corridor, but they do it honestly; David a little more than Jim. If I could summarize their position as charitably as possible, it would be “they know we need rail, and they think that this is the only way to get it”. I think David would honestly summarize my position, and I hope Jim would as well.

Scott, not so much.

One of Scott’s points was that it was unfair to compare this starter line to Tri-Rail as I’ve done, because this line “enters downtown” and is only “4 blocks from Congress Avenue”. He scored a point on me here since this ended up as a “gotcha” comeback to my quote that Tri-Rail’s first route was a stupid idea because “Unlike most commuter rail systems, it doesn’t serve even one downtown area.”

This ended up being my biggest missed opportunity today. I failed to point out that in their own literature the pro-RAIL PAC talks about shuttle buses downtown, and not only that, has a picture of a shuttle bus with the sign “DOWNTOWN” on it, at the supposed downtown rail station. If they expect that downtown workers will think that a station at the Convention Center is close enough to walk to their office, why do they need a shuttle-bus at all? Why talk up the “quick and easy transfer”?

Take a look at their literature – the picture on the front cover is a rendition of the Convention Center stop (“downtown”), illustrating the “quick and easy transfers” to shuttle buses. Note the second bus back (on the right) is labelled DOWNTOWN.

This is still burnin’ my biscuits even tonight. I’m sure David thinks I’m crazy for being more scared of B than A when everybody else is more scared of A than B, but he presents his position honestly without misrepresentation. Scott, not so much.

More on our Commuter Rail Model, Tri-Rail

http://www.browardpalmbeach.com/2004-04-15/news/next-stop-nowhere/

Again, this system is about the closest analogue out there to what Mike Krusee’s puppets at Capital Metro are proposing this time around. It serves primarily suburban areas; doesn’t reach any downtowns or other activity centers; has high-frequency “circulators” at every station; etc.

One key difference, though: Tri-Rail’s 15-year experiment with the horrible route doesn’t preclude them, at least technically, from going to a much better route (down the FEC railroad which DOES run through the major actviity centers of the region). In Austin’s case, if commuter rail is built, you can’t technically OR politically build light-rail on the 2000 corridor, and I don’t think you can even do it on the modified “keep going north on Lamar” corridor proposed briefly in 2003. In other words, we’re worse off – if we’re making a mistake here, we not only waste a decade or more and a hundred million bucks, we ALSO prevent ourselves from building the rail right.

Excerpts:

A week’s worth of trips on the Tri-Rail, South Florida’s poky, 15-year-old commuter railway, recently confirmed the conventional rat-racing wisdom: The train serves not the region’s most populated areas but the fringes. It doesn’t offer riders destinations they truly need or desire, nor convenient times to get there. It’s underutilized, even during rush hour. It’s not located where people like Nick — an unemployed construction worker who says he’s “between cars” — are most likely to use it.

[…]

Since its start, Tri-Rail has operated on the CSX tracks, west of I-95. After about $1 billion of expenditures on its current line, transportation officials are considering shifting their main focus to the more desirable Florida East Coast Railway line, which links the region’s coastal city centers. The FEC, long resistant to the idea, now says it’s willing, maybe. The state has applied for $5 million in federal funds to analyze options along the FEC corridor where, critics say, Tri-Rail should have been located all along.

“Was this the best investment?” asks Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “You wonder what could have been accomplished if they had not rushed into it. If, for example, they’d waited a few years and bought the FEC.” Tri-Rail began operating in January 1989 to alleviate traffic during construction on I-95. As the highway project continued unabated, though, the commuter train became a permanent fixture. But Tri-Rail officials never took their eyes off the far-preferable downtown route — even now, in the midst of its largest overhaul ever, including the construction of a second track along the 72-mile line and a new bridge over the New River, both of which are under way to the tune of $340 million.

Is a second track to nowhere really the answer? “It’ll be nice to have,” Polzin concedes. “There’s value in having a corridor in good condition with double-track capacity. But is it worth that much money, especially if something happens with the rail farther to the east? When you think of the expenditure, you could argue that a marginal demand necessitated it.”

Joseph Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, acknowledges that the new plan may render the current Tri-Rail obsolete. “But when you’ve invested a little over a billion dollars to make this one functional — which it is,” he says, “you have to look at how to support that function.”

[…]

Tri-Rail runs through a metropolitan strip that’s now home to 5.2 million people. In February, it carried just 10,151 passengers a day (the highest average since April 1994). Unlike most commuter rail systems, it doesn’t serve even one downtown area. “It’s unique nationally in the sense that it doesn’t penetrate a downtown,” Polzin notes. “It’s an anomaly. You scratch your head and ask, ‘Could they have done more with it?'”

[…]

But Polzin isn’t quite ready to call Tri-Rail a failure. “It’s certainly not a raving success,” he says, “but the community seems comfortable with it. At least you feel good that you tried. But you have to ask how much additional investment, if any, makes sense. Perhaps there will be a greater appreciation for commuter rail in the future, but it’s not a slam-dunk by any stretch of the imagination.”

Tri-Rail wants to boost ridership to 68,000 a day by 2015, which would reduce the cost per rider from a current $8.81 to $5.06. Back in 1999, the agency’s then-director, Linda Bohlinger, gave the commuter system five years to accumulate 20,000 riders a day, opining that if that goal weren’t reached, “either we don’t know what we’re doing or the public doesn’t really need it.”

Again, this is what Mike Krusee wants for Austin: a rail line which requires that you transfer to shuttle buses if you want to get anywhere, and that doesn’t go anywhere near the densest residential parts of the city. Does this sound like a good idea to anyone?

Lessons from South Florida

I can’t believe it took me this long to find this link, but I finally got it.
http://www.floridacdc.org/articles/030930-1.htm
Excerpts:

Some South Florida leaders are itching to introduce something new to the region’s commuter rail service: a train that takes people somewhere they want to go.
As it stands, Tri-Rail rides on tracks beside Interstate 95. The agency’s trains go through no downtowns, and provide only indirect service to the region’s airports. Getting where you want to go generally involves a second trip via bus, bike, taxi or Metrorail.

The CSX line currently being used by Tri-Rail requires transfers to shuttle buses to get anywhere useful, just like the proposed Austin commuter rail line.

This article also talks about efforts to get Tri-Rail service on another existing rail line which actually runs through the downtown areas of the major cities in the region (allowing people to walk to offices, basically).

Another excerpt:

In a telephone interview, Winton said the FEC line would offer a serious alternative to driving for the growing number of people who commute between counties.

Now, a Broward commuter who works in downtown Miami would have to drive to a Tri-Rail station, take the train to a Metrorail station, take Metrorail to downtown, and possibly take Metromover after that.

In contrast, a passenger service on the FEC line would link downtown Miami with, for example, downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has thousands of new apartments and condominiums either built or on the way.
In hindsight, the decision to put Tri-Rail on the CSX track was probably unwise, Winton said.
”I think it was a huge mistake,” he said. “It doesn’t seem logical to me. It clearly hurts ridership by a ton.”