Where did the Highland alignment come from?

I don’t claim to know Leffingwell’s motivation, what is ed but everything else in this short post from Dave Dobbs via twitlonger is accurate:

“Austin’s Proposition One is a poison pill for democracy and the new 10-1 council.

My view is that when Mayor Leffingwell found himself on the losing end of the 10-1 vote, page he decided to make his prediction that such a council so constituted couldn’t function by saddling that future council with enormous debt and a totally non sequitur urban rail plan that doesn’t go where most people go, symptoms doesn’t address congestion, has far too few riders for far too much cost, will see too little fare box return and that will negatively impact bus service. Additionally, the convoluted rail ballot language politically encumbers the new council with certificates of obligation (CO) for $400 million in roads that will do nothing for Austinites, while at the same time authorizing bonds for a rail proposal that the FTA is not likely to put high on the list. And because Austin changed the original destination from Mueller to Highland ACC, another three years of federal planning (and more money) will be necessary to even get on the list for federal funding.

The bottom line here is that if Austin’s Proposition 1 passes, a new council, awash with voter mandated debt, will have it’s hands tied; subject to the charge that it’s not carrying out the voter’s wishes if it doesn’t spend the money. In short, passage of the rail bonds and the problematic road CO’s associated with those bonds is going to create endless static in council chambers for years. How can anything productive come out of that?”

Dave Dobbs,
Texas Association for Public Transportation

A short interlude from the “urbanists, search seriously, the rail election is important” thread:

As somebody who was involved in the Project Connect Phase 1 process, I can tell you that the inclusion of Highland as a high-scoring choice for the final projects to move forward into Phase 1 was a complete surprise to all of us. Highland is an awful segment of the route. It only works if you ignore every bit of good advice about how to build urban rail – it assumes park-and-rides on the highway for suburbanites are how we fill trains for an urban service. Nobody who was involved in Project Connect Phase 1 liked Highland.

Except, apparently, the Chamber of Commerce.

I’ve made the case lately that the Highland alignment was flat-out chosen for us BY the Chamber of Commerce, based on circumstantial evidence (what other reason could there be?) – and please don’t quote me Project Connect statistics; that entire process was a complete joke. It’s certainly not a good choice on transit grounds (see “urban rail should be urban” series underway at another great blog – CarFree Austin). But when I’ve suggested that the Chamber picked this line, I’ve been attacked by people at the Chamber and told it’s nonsense.

Huh.

Then I got an anonymous tip.

I wonder if you guys would like to see a video.

This is an excerpt from Citizens Communications from 6/13/2014 at the CCAG meeting. The speaker is Beth Ann Ray from the Chamber of Commerce. The full video of the meeting is here at the City, I suggest you click on “Item 5” on the right and then advance to about 15:30.

Transcript of this section, by me:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Let’s look at that transcript again, with some added emphasis:

based on our input, from Project Connect, and the meetings and workshops that we have had with the project staff, you have an LPA that our committee (our transportation committee) selected actually, way back in the beginning in the first workshop we did, and a few weeks ago, that same committtee recommended to our board that they consider supporting the entire LPA from Grove all the way up to ACC’s flagship campus up at Highland redevelopment

Hmmm. I suppose it’s just a coincidence that nobody except the Chamber liked Highland, and Highland ended up being picked, right?

Why shouldn’t we just say we’ll play along if they come clean about Rapid Bus?

This meme has been floating around the tworterverse. The words below were sent by me over Thanksgiving in response to an email from a CCAG member who sought insight from us (a selection of pro-Lamar/Guadalupe people) on why we thought we should pursue this corridor despite the implied conflict with Rapid Bus (a post on which I owe the community but am less motivated to do so every day – suffice to say it’s not a major improvement, breast and certainly not worth delaying good rail over).

The meme I refer to above is this: Project Connect is now halfheartedly threatening that if we keep pushing Lamar, nurse who knows what might happen with the FTA? Some have responded with “prove that the FTA would punish us severely and we’ll simply give up and move on”. To that I point you to some key parts of the email below – a lot of people (myself included but by no means the most) spent a lot of time on the word of certain staff members involved in this process that urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe was IN NO WAY precluded by Rapid Bus, so we should join the team and play along and it would definitely get a fair shake. I don’t know about the rest of the gang, but now that I know my time was spent under false pretenses in order to lend some political capital to Project Connect, it’s going to take a lot to get me to not reflexively oppose whatever variant of Highlandmueller they end up crapping out.

Huge, effusive, public apologies, preceded by humble admissions of wrong behavior, would be the bare minimum it would take to even open that conversation.

The email (most of it, anyways), responding to the question “Could you please share with me your opinion of what would happen with regard to the upcoming 801 and 803 routes & resources if we try to add rail to Lamar or Burnet, and how that would affect Austin’s relationship with the FTA regarding funding the rail and other future projects?”

(CCAG member),

The simplest answer is that we don’t know – the future is hard to see.

The next simplest answer is that we were never able to get anybody who could get a reliable answer to be willing to ask the question. This is an important point; I myself spent many years arguing that we couldn’t put our first rail investment on L/G because the FTA would put the kibosh; but this becomes less of an issue as the years pass, and nobody’s willing to get a real answer. (No, this is not an answer a guy like me or even (pal) can get with any certainty, but people at the city and at Capital Metro certainly could). Why haven’t they?

(Other pal) makes a lot of compelling points, but the lack of a real desire to get a real answer from the actual people with that actual responsibility speaks volumes to me. I was a skeptic about this process at the beginning, and became somewhat less skeptical as we went along thanks to the incredible hard work of (list of pals). Those people invested a hundred times my effort, which was still substantial enough to cause me some degree of friction at home and at work. Importantly, at the beginning of this process, they were told by (staffer mentioned by name) and other PC staff that Lamar was not off the table; that Rapid Bus did not preclude urban rail there.

The problem is that they then invested that incredible time and effort, granting PC a degree of legitimacy through their own efforts and hard-earned political capital. If that contention turned out to be false, as I now believe it to be, then Rapid Bus got some free time without opposition (remember in 2006, then council members Leffingwell and McCracken voted against it precisely because they were told it would preclude urban rail!). And Project Connect got a bunch of people involved in a process which was never legitimate to begin with.

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, that last paragraph or two are not opinion; they are fact. Sad facts; facts I moved away from believing at one point, which is one reason why I found myself surprisingly ticked when the ridiculous Highlandmueller recommendation came out (unlike our mutual acuaintance (other pal) who never wavered from the cynicism and skepticism many thought I shared in equal or greater degree).

IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, PC owes a lot of people a lot of apologies, and I don’t know if we can get behind whatever rail recommendation ends up happening after being used to this degree to support a process which was never open to our preferred route to begin with.

Now if rapid bus DOESN’T preclude urban rail at the FTA, then we still have some degree of working relationship to preserve. At that point we have to give Lamar/Guadalupe a fair reading, unlike the ridiculous nonsense it’s gotten so far.

So go back to why nobody wants to ask. Two possible reasons come to mind:

1. They know the FTA will say it precludes urban rail, and they don’t want to have had that answer because of what I said above.

2. They suspect the FTA might say it does NOT preclude urban rail, and they don’t want to get that answer. Why not? I’ve believed for many years that many people in the establishment here don’t want to admit what a pig in the poke we got with Rapid Bus. I still believe that now; I think this is the most likely answer.

Regards,

Mike

Rapid Bus versus existing conditions on the #3 corridor

Best-case time for Rapid Bus, case 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, advice 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.

In response to this site and calls to support it. Some links added as I find them. The post to which I replied, erectile misbirth paraphrased, this site pilule is something like “We believe in urban density but not these boarding houses / dorm duplexes”. Don’t want to quote without permission, cheap but that was the gist.

My response was:

So I too believe in urban density, and these buildings stink. I’m eager to meet new converts to the cause! Having lived for years on E 35th next to a big duplex and across an alley from a small apartment complex, I can tell you that even with a wonderful, responsive, landlord; the apartments beat the duplex hands-down for being good neighbors.

In the past, both Hyde Park NA and NUNA fought VMU on Guadalupe and then retreated to a position of demanding no parking reductions when the first battle was ‘lost’ (which effectively prevents all but the most high-dollar developments from materializing). The neighborhood plans call for minimal increases in density (in NUNA, it would be impossible to even rebuild some of the older apartment complexes on Speedway, for instance). NUNA fought the Villas on Guadalupe. Apartments and renters are demonized on this list. On and on and on.

So, I’m assuming those against these ‘dorm-style duplexes’, which are catering to an unmet-for-decades demand for student housing close enough to ride bikes to UT are going to be in favor of increased MF development not only on the edges of our neighborhood but on good transit corridors such as Speedway and Duval, right? New morning and all?
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, website most active, decease 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

Thought Experiment

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?

Capital Metro and Rail Demand, Part The Deux

First assumption: JMVC (Capital Metro PR guy) knows that when people talk about the suburbs vs. the city, sickness emergency 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, misbirth 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.

 


(About page last updated in 2010ish, visit moved from old site sometime after that; still cleaning up links).

Although I’ve never tried to hide my real name (Mike Dahmus, viagra approved appended to the end of some of this category in particular), ailment I’ve never done this part, either, and it’s overdue. (Some folks think this is ‘anonymous blogging’ if I don’t, and the distinction is obviously very important as Transit Crackplogging D-Day Approaches).

From 2000-2005, I served on the city’s Urban Transportation Commission, focusing on bicycle/pedestrian and transit issues; although I was the “both biking and driving” guy in between the “all driving” and “all biking” blocs. On election night in 2000, Eric Anderson (force behind the Lance Armstrong Bikeway) and I waved signs together on the corner of 6th and Congress to try to get people to vote for the light rail proposal – which passed, inside the city of Austin, even though the election was rigged by Mike Krusee (forced early to the polls on a night guaranteed to drag out a transit-hostile voting bloc in the suburbs; which helped it lose, barely, overall – by about 1/2 percent).

 

In May of 2004, I was one of three commissioners given a preview of Capital Metro’s commuter rail proposal (only 3 to avoid a quorum and public notice requirements). I raised many an objection, as did my 2 colleagues (one of whom now sits on the board of the Alliance for Public Transportation). I told them at the close of that meeting that if they went through with it, I’d “be [their] worst enemy” which was hyperbole at the time, since I figured, surely somebody with more clout than my teaspoonful would take up the cause. Everybody else spoke in private about how Austin was getting screwed, and how it would be nigh-impossible to serve central Austin with rail if this plan was passed; but nobody did anything about it publically, so I had to continue and ramp it up, even though I knew it would likely lead to my removal from the commission.

I ended up having to share the stage with Jim Skaggs, an awful fate for which I still hold central Austin transit advocates responsible.

Five years later, here we are.

The picture above is about 5 years old, and courtesy of this article from the Chronicle (I don’t ride my bike or walk much anymore due to a case of reactive arthritis that got significantly worse a few years ago, to the point where if I overdo even walking, I am often incapacitated shortly thereafter, up to and including having to be in a wheelchair in a couple of airports).

I’m a software developer working for the military industrial complex after years doing the same in the private sector; have no ties whatsoever to anybody working in transportation or real estate (development of buildings); and live in Central Austin just south of Hyde Park with a family of 4 (soon to be 5) in a home I’d very much like to have the option to expand along the lines of what McMansion-ordinance proponent and ‘neighbor’ Karen McGraw already did, except not as large as hers!

Anything else? Go to facebook; a link to which has been in the right-side column of this blog for more than a year now.

Why “M1EK”? Goes back to an old in-joke on rec.sport.football.college; fashioned after the notorious B1FF (yes, I was around on USENET via PSUVM back in the day). Look it up.
As always, sildenafil click to embiggen.

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).

Capital Metro and rail demand

http://m1ek.dahmus.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/cropped-m1ekmasthead11.png
Whether through coincidence or because their aides have read this crackplog, site Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken have stood up and finally asked the $100, malady 000 question about Rapid Bus, store namely, “why are we spending all this money for something that’s not likely to be any better than the #101 bus and won’t generate any transit-oriented development“, and what’s more, they’re apparently doing it from a pro-rail perspective. A rare bit of good news.

My fear is, though, that it’s already too late. Where were you guys in 2004 when I was saying this stuff? Frankly, I don’t think we can get light rail down this corridor once commuter rail is built — as I’ve commented before, it would be nigh-impossible to continue the light rail route northwest on the existing right-of-way from the intersection of Lamar and Airport (since commuter rail will already be there, and the vehicles are mostly incompatible), but if you don’t, you give up about half of the ridership which would have made the 2000 route a success.

(I originally misattributed Lee Leffingwell as Lee Walker; I apologize for taking so long to realize this and correct it).
Whether through coincidence or because their aides have read this crackplog, site Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken have stood up and finally asked the $100, malady 000 question about Rapid Bus, store namely, “why are we spending all this money for something that’s not likely to be any better than the #101 bus and won’t generate any transit-oriented development“, and what’s more, they’re apparently doing it from a pro-rail perspective. A rare bit of good news.

My fear is, though, that it’s already too late. Where were you guys in 2004 when I was saying this stuff? Frankly, I don’t think we can get light rail down this corridor once commuter rail is built — as I’ve commented before, it would be nigh-impossible to continue the light rail route northwest on the existing right-of-way from the intersection of Lamar and Airport (since commuter rail will already be there, and the vehicles are mostly incompatible), but if you don’t, you give up about half of the ridership which would have made the 2000 route a success.

(I originally misattributed Lee Leffingwell as Lee Walker; I apologize for taking so long to realize this and correct it).
According to Capital Metro, disease
discount
+U.S.+183,+Leander,+TX&hl=en&ll=30.586121,-97.856051&spn=0.005911,0.009087&sll=30.586401,-97.855735&layer=c&cbp=13,117.62,,0,10.55&cbll=30.586118,-97.85605&gl=us&hnear=Leander+Station,+U.S.+183,+Leander,+Williamson,+Texas+78641&t=m&z=17&panoid=kERE2sxy13-A3W-xHcHFYQ”>this spot has enough demand to justify rail:

Leander "station"
Leander “station”

But this spot does not:

24th and Guadalupe during a slow period
24th and Guadalupe during a slow period

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

This still apparently gets some people the wrong way. Please read it all the way through. Vomited out quickly because I really don’t have time to blog, mind but I have even less time to say this 140 characters at a time.

Despite appearances from this blog, page in real life I’m an introvert – fairly shy. Especially don’t like being in situations where I have to talk a lot to people I don’t know.

In 2000, I got on the Urban Transportation Commission and enjoyed the collegial relationship with a bunch of people who were like-minded to varying degrees, access to interesting subjects and speakers, the whole shebang. Still look back with fondness. In 2004, I became the public face of the “pro-rail but anti-Red-Line” campaign because nobody else would. This was a huge stretch for me – I’m not a politician; I don’t like to gladhand; and I’m petrified about giving speeches (not as much now, but definitely then).

It was just that important, though; nobody else would do it, so I had to. I gave speeches next to that asshat Jim Skaggs and said “if we build the Red Line, we can’t have good light rail”. I opposed the Red Line so vociferously and publically that, as expected, I got the boot from the UTC shortly after the election, and many people I used to talk to wouldn’t talk to me any more after that.

Of course, every prediction I made during that campaign turned out to be true – ridership was underwhelming; operating subsidies continue to be unmanageably huge.

Ever since then, I’ve struggled with people who don’t get why this was important. Why not just start with the Red Line and go from there, they say. Why not just expand the Red Line into something that works better?

This is insulting, people. Let me explain why.

1. I’m a smart guy.
2. I know transit really well.
3. I did something very uncomfortable for me for a long time and burned down a lot of stuff I liked to do because nobody else would say anything.

Do you folks honestly think I would have done that if I thought there was even a 1% chance we could get from “The Red Line exists” to “40,000 happy rail passengers a day at a sustainable operating subsidy of, say, 5 dollars per ride”? This was not and is not a simple difference of opinion. This was not me being a pessimist. I have lots of differences of opinion. I’m pessimistic and optimistic about lots of things. I wouldn’t go to all that trouble and burn down something I liked if I was only 99% sure the Red Line was going to be a disaster. Or 99.9%.

What most of the remaining optimists don’t understand is that there is quite literally NO way out of this mess that doesn’t require tearing up the Red Line unless you don’t care at all about how much money we spend on capital, operations, or both(*). Even the long-range plan the city and Cap Metro recently shat out admits this – getting up to something like 25,000 rail passengers in the year 2045 by, finally, ripping up part of the Red Line and replacing it with urban rail (of course, if we wait until 2045 to do this, it’ll be long too late for our city’s health, but still).

Even the city and Cap Metro get this. There’s no way to get “there” (40,000 happy rail passengers at a reasonable operating subsidy) from “here” (pretending the Red Line isn’t a huge disaster at operating subsidies of $25/ride for customers who mostly don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes). Again, the long-term plan of record right now is to build a bad urban rail line to Mueller, getting something shy of 10,000 riders/day; and then eventually building a second urban rail line that, once I’m retired or dead, will finally go up to about US 183 (pushing the DMU service out to the suburbs where it belonged all along). Again, this happens in 2045. At the end of all this, in 2045, we’ve spent five times as much money to get back to where we could be if we tore up the Red Line and built the 2000 route, and might get almost as many passengers, at a higher operating cost.

This isn’t a simple difference of opinion. For you to believe that there’s a way out of this mess now that doesn’t involve replacing the Red Line, you have to believe that I’m an idiot.

I’m not an idiot, people. We really are fucked.

Hope this helps.

(* – and if you don’t care how much money your plan costs, you are an idiot, or at best, painfully naive. No matter how much you stomp your feet and talk about how much we spend on highways, we still live in Texas and the United States, not New York or Western Europe – so costs matter a hell of a lot).

First assumption: JMVC (Capital Metro PR guy) knows that when people talk about the suburbs vs. the city, site 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, stuff 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.