Summary of yesterday

Update: The video’s already up; you can see my speech here (click on Citizens Communications to jump to me).

I spoke in citizens’ communication yesterday to the CCAG. Gave up a half day to do so (had to be there to sign up at 1:15; limited slots; ended up getting there shortly after noon to make sure I got my spot). Found out as the meeting started that citizen communication is the LAST thing. Uh-oh.

My original speech was going to be about why Rapid Bus should not preclude rail in the Lamar ‘subcorridor’. Since I ended up giving my speech AFTER the ridiculous announcement that it’s going to be Highland ‘and ERC’; I ended up rewriting my speech into an indictment of the process, which has been gradually revealed to have been designed to generate the predestined conclusion that Mueller (i.e. Not Lamar) should be the initial route. (Note that Highland is, as I’m calling it, “Mueller in drag”; Kyle Keahy made sure to mention many times that it takes you right to the edge of Mueller).

Amazingly, Scott Gross had the gall to put up a slide showing an overwhelming citizen preference for Lamar over the next closest two alternatives; and then proceeded to argue it meant nothing; that their made-up or mangled data which led to misleading conclusions was somehow more valid than the opinion of the transiterati in this town. Well, he just implied that; they never went back and mentioned the overwhelming vote for Lamar again.

My thoughts on the reason for this choice largely mirror Chris Bradford, aka the Austin Contrarian, who made this excellent comment in response to Julio’s blog post:

I don’t agree with B-.

We all agree that ERC should be part of a fully built-out urban rail system. It is highly unlikely that it will be built first, though. The obstacles are just too high. Building another bridge over LBL is very tricky, and very expensive. Then they will have to lay a mile of track and get across I-35 just get to East Riverside’s western edge. Given that any initial starter line will (and should) connect downtown and UT, the next logical phase is to keep heading north. Heading across the lake and then down East Riverside for the first phase will require a really high initial bond amount, giving voters sticker shock.

If ERC isn’t a genuine first-phase option, then why was it named? I believe it is being dangled out there to prevent the Highland opponents from mobilizing for a fight. It will be pulled back as a true first-phase option at the last possible moment.

And we shouldn’t lose sight of this: Highland will be first. Going up to Highland Mall through UT’s eastern edge and Red River (or some route even further east) is a bad route. It’s a waste of money. And, yes, it will foreclose rail on Guadalupe/Lamar indefinitely. It will do so for a couple of reasons: (1) it will have relatively low ridership, which will dampen public support for further investments; and (2) although it is too far from Guad/Lamar to serve the dense neighborhoods on that route, it is too close to justify another investment on Guad/Lamar until other parts of town have been served.

I see their announcement of Highland/ERC as a cynical political strategy to dampen opposition until it’s too late. That deserves an “F,” not a B-.

If they put forward a plan to build ERC first, I’ll switch to B. But I don’t think that will happen.

WTB a new Cap Metro.

ERC is not going to be built in the first phase; this is the city staff being aware enough to group it with Highland so people will say “well, at least they hit SOME density (in ERC)”. It’s going to be Highland, which takes you right to the edge of Mueller, and then, oops, we’re right back to that predetermined conclusion that we should do exactly what the plan was in 2010.

These look so very very different.
These look so very very different. (Image courtesy @jacedeloney)

The meeting will go up soon on the city channel 6 site. I’m told I was viewed as “intense”.

Tried to make my 3 minutes at 3:00 count, but there was no reaction from the CCAG; except that afterwards I was cornered by a UT VP and lectured for not having provided them much data. Sorry, ma’am, I got a job and a family; it ought to be the job of the people you PAY TO DO THIS to provide honest data. Oh, and Dave Sullivan got mad because I didn’t mention the GPS stuff in Rapid Bus as an improvement. Dave, it was in the earlier draft. Trust me.

The Rapid Bus post will have to wait. The time I was going to spend at this chess tournament writing it up turned out to be burned up by running around after my 4 year old, although I did get to talk to Councilmember Spelman for ten minutes before Sophie insisted that enough was enough.

How do I feel? Despite popular conception, I’m apparently not completely cynical as I was surprised at how embarassingly shameless this con-job ended up being. Thrown for enough of a loop that I ended up throwing bile all over twitter last night of a caliber that the world hasn’t seen in many years. Worrying-the-coworkers level, here.

I’m most upset, though, I think, at the fact that the AURA people were conned by people like friend-of-the-blog JMVC into thinking that Rapid Bus did not, in fact, preclude urban rail. Those folks then proceeded to invest a huge amount of their time in this process, when the fix had been in since the very beginning; and they ended up giving Project Connect relevance and respect it didn’t deserve in the process. Had people been honest from the beginning, we might have been able to have an adult conversation about “why aren’t we doing more for Guadalupe than this shitty bus service that makes things worse for most people north of the river anyways?”. Now we never will. I wasted a couple of days of vacation time. The AURA executive committee spent ten times as much, each.

As for where we go from here? I will see what the AURA guys end up doing. If they continue to be suckered into believing, or even just acting like JMVC and his pals driving Project Connect are their friends rather than the obstacles they really are, then we’ll be parting ways. I said at the beginning of this process that if a non-Guadalupe route was recommended through an honest process using legitimate data and reasonable assumptions that I’d support it. THAT’S NOT EVEN CLOSE TO WHAT WE GOT.

And I don’t agree with Julio that we’ve made incredible progress. ‘We’ forced Project Connect to come up with bad data, bad analysis, and bad conclusions to justify their predetermined route, sure; but the route is still bad – it’s the same goddamn route as before – with the same 0% chance of being full-enough-of-riders to lead to a full system of urban rail instead of another RedLine-esque generation-losing one-and-done.

I definitely won’t be voting for a Highland/”ERC but really no just Mueller” alignment the way things stand now, nor should you.

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.

Rapid Bus versus existing conditions on the #3 corridor

Best-case time for Rapid Bus, here we are.

The existing service on Burnet Road heading southbound into downtown in the morning rush looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-21 at 9.45.16 AM

This basically boils down to a local bus every 22 minutes during the morning peak. Service drops slightly to 26-minute headways during the mid-day, and then rises back to 22 minutes during the evening peak. People from other cities may not believe this, but this actually qualifies as frequent by Austin standards. This route makes a lot of stops. Meaning it’s fairly slow, but you don’t have to walk far to pick it up (I used to use this one, occasionally, for a former work commute).

Stops on existing #3

The new Rapid Bus line running on Burnet/Lamar (the second one to be built, but the first one we’re talking about) will run every 10 minutes during the morning peak, and every “12-20 minutes” during the mid-day.

Here’s a diagram of the Rapid Bus route replacing the #3 (look at the purple line). The bus will only stop at the indicated ‘stations’ (bench + sign).

MetroRapid on Burnet/S Lamar

An interesting aside: Capital Metro’s newest MetroRapid presentations now only include the best example of travel time improvement for each route (somewhat OK in the case of the #3 replacement; complete bullshit on the other route). Luckily, your intrepid reporter located the old presentation from which the picture below is taken

And here’s the travel time estimate improvement graphic from Capital Metro:

MetroRapid #3 improvements

So we can see a pretty big travel improvement here – focusing on North Austin, a 20% or so time improvement over the #3. But where does that improvement come from? Traffic lights, or reducing stops?

Unfortunately, there’s no existing express service (limited-stop) on the corridor to compare to, so we can’t answer that question – but the results from the next post may serve illustrative on that metric. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let’s imagine a couple of users of the current #3 and see how this affects them. Using 600 Congress for the destination here.

Allan Allandale boards the #3 bus today at a stop that will be served by the new MetroRapid service. He gets on the bus at Justin/Burnet today for his job downtown. Currently, this trip takes from 8:11 to 8:43. 32 minutes. In the new service, we’ll be completely credulous and assume the 20% time reduction from the entire “Domain to 10th St” trip applies equally here – and the new trip will take 25 minutes (32 – (20% == 7)). Allan saved 7 minutes.

But that’s not the only case. Scroll back up and notice the high number of #3 stops up there. Most of those are going away; unlike the other Rapid Bus line on Guadalupe/Lamar, the existing local bus is not just being cut; it’s being eliminated. So a person may have to walk quite a bit further to the new stop than the old one.

Suppose Allan’s friend Andy Allandale lives in a slightly different spot in Allandale and currently uses the bus stop at Burnet & Greenlawn. His extra walk from that bus stop down to Justin/Burnet will take about 4 minutes. Doesn’t seem like much, but remember Andy is only going to save 7 minutes on the actual bus ride. So the savings for Andy are actually only 3 minutes.

This pattern gets worse the closer in you get to town (and better the further out you get) – which makes sense. A 20% time savings is going to buy you more savings on the bus part of the trip the further out you are, and if the walk penalty is about the same, the suburbanite will benefit more from the service than will the urbanite. Unfortunately, this ruins the narrative that Rapid Bus is going to be great for Central Austin. In fact, Rapid Bus delivers its travel time benefits on the #3 route disproportionately to people who live very far out; people in Central Austin likely see little benefit even if they live right next to the stop; and zero or even worse conditions if they live next to a #3 stop that’s being eliminated.

Worse case scenario still: Ronald Rosedale currently boards the #3 at 45th and Burnet. The new Rapid Bus that eliminated the #3 actually moves away from Burnet here over to Lamar – the closest new stop will be at Sunshine and Lamar (or 40th and Lamar). 8 minute walk, which totally eliminates the time savings from the Rapid Bus trip.

Once we go further south than that, we’re into the territory where the lines overlap, and the #1 remains a (less frequent than before) option.

Now, what about frequency? On this corridor, all users see a significant increase in peak-hour frequency, roughly doubling the number of available bus trips per hour over current conditions. Mid-day frequency improvement is likely not significant (I’d wager the 12-20 minute citation here means this corridor is getting 20 minute headways and the other one 12; existing conditions are 26-minute headways).

So the conclusion for the #3 corridor? If you live far out of the core, but still close to a stop that will be served by the new service, you are going to be much better off. Central city residents, down in the urban core, will see little travel time benefits, but still enjoy frequency benefits.

On to Guadalupe/Lamar Rapid Bus next, likely next week.

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, most active, most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

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

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

This is bullshit.

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

Joker-here-we-go

I’m withdrawing my support for rail to Mueller

JMVC says this, heart paraphrased, gerontologist a lot, for sale and in fact, I completely agree with him:

“Rather than moving to the suburbs and expecting transit to be delivered to you, you should move to areas that are effectively served by transit already, because we’ll never be able to afford to serve all of the suburban sprawl with transit.”

Why, then, does he support rail decisions like these:

Instead of making that investment on places like Guadalupe and Lamar, where the areas are today that are dense – where people like me moved specifically so they could be served cheaply and effectively by transit? Where transit demand is so overwhelming today that the #1 bus which runs the most frequent service in town (requiring the smallest possible subsidy on the entire system) is overloaded and standing-room-only?

Why would we continue to invest in $20-plus-per-ride operating subsidies for people who knowingly chose to live in Cedar Park and Round Rock, who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes, instead of making far more cost-effective capital investments in the core which could allow cheaper (operating cost, anyways) bus service to be spread out to more lower-density areas instead? Shouldn’t we logically give the people who chose to live in low-density the buses and the people who chose to live in high-density the trains?

Why doesn’t he walk the talk? Why doesn’t Capital Metro?
JMVC says this, more paraphrased, dermatologist a lot, and in fact, I completely agree with him:

“Rather than moving to the suburbs and expecting transit to be delivered to you, you should move to areas that are effectively served by transit already, because we’ll never be able to afford to serve all of the suburban sprawl with transit.”

Why, then, does he support rail decisions like these:

Instead of making that investment on places like Guadalupe and Lamar, where the areas are today that are dense – where people like me moved specifically so they could be served cheaply and effectively by transit? Where transit demand is so overwhelming today that the #1 bus which runs the most frequent service in town (requiring the smallest possible subsidy on the entire system) is overloaded and standing-room-only?

Why would we continue to invest in $20-plus-per-ride operating subsidies for people who knowingly chose to live in Cedar Park and Round Rock, who don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes, instead of making far more cost-effective capital investments in the core which could allow cheaper (operating cost, anyways) bus service to be spread out to more lower-density areas instead? Shouldn’t we logically give the people who chose to live in low-density the buses and the people who chose to live in high-density the trains?

Why doesn’t he walk the talk? Why doesn’t Capital Metro?
I don’t have long – just a few minutes to fill the hole of a cancelled conference call before a busy day at work and a quick trip for a friend’s wedding.

In 2008, more about I wrote a post entitled “Last Best Chance For Urban Rail Is Here” in which I made the argument that the original Wynn/McCracken urban rail proposal to run doubletrack in reserved guideway from ABIA to downtown to UT to Mueller (maybe not reserved guideway on that last bit) was the best we could hope for, sickness and that it was something we could eventually build good rail on top of.

That was 2008. 2008 was too close to 2000, and especially to 2004, to risk putting Lamar/Guadalupe in front of voters. And had we passed that plan in 2008, it’d be running now, and we could be working on the Lamar/Guadalupe path right now with hopefully 15,000 boardings/day on a good urban rail line to point to a reason we should build an even better one.

We’re now in 2013. The election for the city’s urban rail plan appears to be targeted to 2014. Reserved guideway has become a mirage; as has starting at ABIA to pick up East Riverside. Instead, Mueller is all there is to fill trains, and that’s not nearly enough. The current plan has us building another suburban commuter rail line for more suburbanites who don’t pay Capital Metro taxes, then messing around with some more express and rapid bus stuff; then maybe getting back to urban rail. If we approve this plan, the current thinking is that we might get to Lamar/Guadalupe in the 2040s.

Fuck that.

If we have to wait until the 2040s to put rail on an actual decent, dense, transit-supportive corridor, we might as well give up now. I know I will – I’m going to be retired by then; and if we have to wait that long to build a rail line that more than a handful of people will actually use, our city will be in such deep shit that I’ll probably have moved, or at least will have encouraged my kids to do so.

It’s time to go for broke here. Lamar/Guadalupe or bust. 2040 is too long; and Mueller is too suburban. Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, Guadalupe north of 27th is a bitch. But we’re out of time – the plan hatched up by the typical gang of consultants and politicians and tepidly supported by sycophants like the Alliance for Public Transportation isn’t going to get us anything worth getting until almost everybody reading this blog is retired.

It’s time to stand up for Austin, who pays 90% of Capital Metro’s bills, yet isn’t slated to get any real rail service to its densest residential areas until the 2040s. It’s time to stand up for serving existing density over pastures and new suburbs. It’s time to admit that Rapid Bus is a piece of crap that isn’t going to make more than a trivial difference on the corridor.

It’s time.

More soon.

Capital Metro and Rail Demand, Part The Deux

According to our buddy John-Michael Vincent Cortez, this area justifies rail service:

Lakeline "station"
Do the Cedar trees make it urban?

but this location does not:

NB Guadalupe near 27th
Clearly there’s no demand here.

But surely I must have taken a bad picture of the first location. Let’s spin around and take a couple more shots:

Lakeline "station" looking west-ish?
Vibrant!
Lakeline "station" looking east-ish?
Urban!

One last one, to the north-ish, showing development happening any day now which will turn this into an urban paradise:

Lakeline "station", looking north-ish
Man, that screams “future TOD”, don’t it?

Oops, looks like suburban homebuilder signs. Well, still, if he says that this area justifies rail service:

Lakeline "station", looking north-ish
Man, that screams “future TOD”, don’t it?
Lakeline "station" looking east-ish?
Urban!
Lakeline "station" looking west-ish?
Vibrant!
Lakeline "station"
Do the Cedar trees make it urban?

and this does not:

Guadalupe near 27th, looking south
Desolate low-density wasteland with no urban activity, obviously

who are we to argue?

Previously.

(All Lakeline pictures taken during a serendipitous Saturday morning trip from my kid’s chess tournament up in Cedar Round Rock Park to the Super Awesome Target to buy a camp chair, in which I coincidentally (yes, coincidentally) drove right by the ‘station’. Austin pictures horked from Google streetview, which were obviously snapped during a slow period. Posted with some pain to bookface because RRISD blocks that, and IMAP/SMTP, but NOT tworter for some reason, so Round Cedar Park Rock punks should please plan on getting tworter accounts posthaste).

Spin alert: Back to our buddy

From his twitter last night:

JMVC on twitter, 1/15/2013

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Let’s consult the archives:

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

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

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

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

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