Austin’s land use ISN’T the problem behind Capital Metro’s poor ridership

I tweeted about this yesterday and due to time constraints will just copy it here via storify.

 

I just sent the slideshare version (contains more slides) to all city council members. I’ve exported some to images for this blog post; but the slideshare may be a better viewing experience if your platform permits it.

[slideshare id=44551824&doc=20150211transitvslanduse-150211093624-conversion-gate02]

Continue reading “Austin’s land use ISN’T the problem behind Capital Metro’s poor ridership”

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.

Stop lying about TOD, Capital Metro

A friend of the crackplog (but strong Red Line supporter) who I will not identify unless I receive permission, contagion
scouted out some fellow riders at Lakeline recently (while I was on Maui) and reported the following:

Riding train in today. Very informal raise your hand survey when I boarded at Lakeline. Abt 20% of folks boarding live in Austin.

Of the rest almost all live in Cedar Park.

Talking to small group already on train, a few from Leander, 1 Cedar Park, rest neither.

While merely anecdotal, this tends to support the theory from my earlier posts that most riders at Lakeline are likely not residents of the city of Austin. My original (educated guess) estimate was that 10% of the boardings at Lakeline would be Austin residents; the anecdotal observation was 20%. Not too far off; and nowhere near the claims of Red Line defenders that because the station is within city limits, most passengers must be from Austin.

Unfortunately, the city just decided to use tax funds from the city of Austin to further subsidize suburbanites who do not contribute tax dollars to the running of the system. My letter to city council got just one response, from the council member I would have least expected to reply. So it goes.
I’ve thrown this argument and picture around a hundred times, visit this but have probably never put them together into a single post, anemia so here we go.

The 2000 light rail proposal had one section that was particularly problematic: where Guadalupe narrows to 4 skinny lanes between 29th and 27th streets. The ‘solution’ to light rail as envisioned back then by the city and by Capital Metro was something like the picture you see below, geriatrician but first I’ll explain it.

Light rail, to be any good, needs to run in its own space – free of cars. Also, in a two-way street, this space should be in the middle of the street – so that both directions of travel can share some infrastructure; so stations are easier to locate; etc.

Guadalupe is a wide street – mostly. Especially south of 24th, it would have been possible to keep two train lanes and (likely) two other lanes going each direction – or at a bare minimum, one lane each direction plus the tracks with no real trouble.

Except, again, for 27th to 30th. Right now there’s about 44 feet of right of way there (4 11-foot lanes). This is not enough to safely fit two train lanes and two vehicle lanes, unfortunately.

So what to do? Here’s my really crappy freehand reconstruction from memory of an engineering drawing that was on the wall of our UTC meeting room for several months in 2003, if I remember correctly. As per usual, click to embiggen.


Now, I might be getting northbound wrong here – it might have gone up Hemphill Park, but you get the idea. Both directions of through travel on Guadalupe would have been disrupted by moving to side streets.

Can you imagine trying to sell this to the public?

Well, in 2000 (and 2004, had we not rolled over for Mike Krusee), you could have made this argument:

Carrying 40,000 riders/day (boardings) is a more efficient use of this space than the cars (and buses) are currently able to pull off. An arterial lane like these can carry only 1000-1500 vehicles per hour – and this proposal trades 3 of the 4 through travel lanes for that train capacity. The travel demand in this corridor is highly directional – peak demand generally inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon with little reverse commuting. We could reasonably expect to somewhat increase the number of people able to use this corridor by making this change. Given there’s somewhere in the high single digit of thousands of boardings for buses in this corridor now, a safe estimate might be that you could almost double(*1) the people moved on the corridor by adding light rail that went directly from the suburban park-and-rides through the urban core into downtown.

Now move to 2012, and try to imagine making the same sale, in the world where the Red Line exists. Except those 40,000 boardings/day are nowhere in sight – because a lot of those people were suburban park-and-ride passengers who won’t ride a service that requires them to transfer (yes, even from train to train); and a few of the urban passengers who would be going up to suburban destinations. I think a reasonable estimate for ridership in this corridor, if we did what Lyndon Henry now wants and just built a stub urban rail line from the 2000 plan, would be 20,000 boardings/day. In other words, most of the urban ridership of the 2000 proposal plus the current Red Line riders. Is it worth the incredible disruption now – when you’re probably just adding a couple of thousands of boardings/day to the corridor?

No, sad to say, it is not.

And that, in addition to the political problems relating to Rapid Bus (see future post), is why we will never see rail in front of UT in our lifetimes. The key lesson here is that the entire reason I fought the Red Line in 2004 is precisely because it meant we couldn’t get rail later on Guadalupe (where it needs to be) if we built it.┬áSee here: Don’t Kid Yourself: Commuter Rail Precludes Light Rail, although that post emphasizes more of the technical and Rapid Bus related issues. I did warn people – if you start with the Red Line, you don’t get rail on Guadalupe, period.

(1: Yes, I could do the math. No, I don’t have time now. I did it on a piece of notebook paper back in the 20-oughts. You’ll have to trust me, or go look it up yourselves.)
I know you guys know better than this. And I know you’re just repeating what the developer says, approved but you know better, viagra sale and so repeating something you know to be false makes you, and well, liars.

Here is a picture from Google Earth showing the straight-line path from the 2900 Manor Road “TOD” to the MLK station. Google Earth shows this as 0.47 miles, which is not even in the same universe as “close enough to call this a transit-oriented development”. VTPI, who essentially invented the term, allows for walks of up to a half mile IF AND ONLY IF some necessary preconditions are met, which the Red Line does not even come close to meeting. Otherwise? Quarter-mile – and that’s for a large TOD area. If you want to call a small development a TOD, it needs to be very close to the transit.

It’s bad enough to count the M Station as a TOD – but at least it’s close enough to be a reasonable distance to walk, although still much further than the prospective passenger would walk to their car in the free surface parking lot. It’s bad enough to count Midtown Commons as a TOD, given that it’s less dense than the Triangle, which has no rail transit at all.

But this? This is enough. Stop it. Stop it now.

Your pal,

M1EK

TOD isn’t going to help ASG

This weekend, the Statesman (link coming later if I can locate the story online, which so far is not happening) ran a story summarizing the current state of the TOD (transit-oriented development) ordinance(s) centering around the stations for the commuter rail line being built by Capital Metro in their ASG (All Systems Go) plan.
Summary:

  • Neighborhoods are against it in every case.
  • Up north, where there’s a ton of space around the station, neighborhoods mainly just want the area covered by the ordinance to shrink.
  • Down southeast, they want affordable housing targets which are going to be too onerous to be practical, AND they want reductions in height and density.
  • Nearly all mandates or requirements in the ordinance, other than affordable housing set-asides, have been watered down to suggestions and incentives.
  • Maximum height and density levels originally proposed around stations will likely be drastically reduced in the final ordinance.

Remember what I told you last month – unlike the light rail plan in 2000, this commuter rail line operates down right-of-way which runs through neighborhoods that don’t want any more density (and there’s not enough political will to do it against their wishes). And, of course, they don’t have (much) density now either. Compare to the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, where neighborhoods that do irresponsibly fight density end up losing anyways — because there IS political will to stand fast and tell them that single-family-only low-density sprawl doesn’t belong in the central city. And, of course, substantially more density currently exists there than anywhere along the commuter rail corridor. Hyde Park and North University and West Campus already have the kind of density that TOD would bring to these commuter rail line neighborhoods.

So this rail line relies much more heavily on future development around stations to produce its intended passenger load than did the more traditional light rail line proposed in 2000 (that line had enough current residents within walking distance of stations to make the Feds very enthusiastic about its prospects – TOD would have just been an added bonus there).
Thus, the additional ridership generated by TOD is a critical piece of the ‘business case’ for this commuter rail line. Unfortunately, thanks to the Council basically rolling over and dying for these neighborhoods, there won’t be much TOD at all when the thing’s finally done. Capital Metro can only hope that the Feds ignore the technical wording of the ordinance which eventually passes and instead responds to the meaningless empty words promoting it. Unfortunately, the Feds have shown little willingness to get this deep on other projects around the country (meaning that they give money to projects that don’t merit it, and don’t give money to projects that do).