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

I know you guys know better than this. And I know you’re just repeating what the developer says, but you know better,

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

Tri-Rail, The Red Line, and “Is It TOD?”

This was originally going to be a comment in response to a comment Erica from Capital Metro made to Two Quick Hits. I’ve reproduced her comment in full here.

Four comments on your two quick hits!
1. I’m new to all of this, so fact check it, but I think Polikov’s involvement dealt with the Crystal Falls development, which is not in the Leander TOD district and is not part of the TOD being developed around Capital Metro’s Leander Station. Leander is not on hold or abandoned, it is on track. http://www.capmetroblog.blogspot.com
2. Crestview: the developers have told us that the presence of MetroRail there made the opportunity attractive and desirable…doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t have been developed on its own, without the rail line there, but maybe not as quickly.
3. Tri-Rail ridership has doubled since 2005. Last year ridership was over 4m, so the “nobody rides it” argument is wearing thin. Anyhow, one of our TOD staff tells me that Tri-Rail has 2 TOD projects underway: Deerfield Beach Station and Boca Raton Station.
4. Development takes time; Mueller planning started in 1997. Groundbreaking for the big box stuff on the frontage road happened in 2006, Dell & the first housing in 2007. It’s a tad early to declare that the Red Line TOD is a failure.

Erica, I can’t agree with any of those points. In order:

  1. Under no circumstance ought you declare this a TOD – not a single spade of dirt has been turned. A lesson which should have been learned from Tri-Rail, which declared a dozen or more TODs that never materialized.
    The Leander plans are rather underwhelming, too. A development that requires that its residents cross at an unprotected crosswalk across a busy highway to get to the transit service is NOT “oriented towards transit”.
    Update: In comments on CM’s blog entry about the TOD, it becomes clear that the blog author was throwing in the crosswalk as an afterthought; it doesn’t appear to be related to this particular supposed TOD project at all. However, the thinking that a ‘crosswalk’ is somehow a bicycle/pedestrian feature which we ought to be impressed by is kind of illustrative here.
  2. Yes, Crestview would have developed just fine – the developers may have gotten a bit of a pass through the neighborhood gauntlet because of the transit, but that’s exactly what I said.
  3. Tri-Rail: Yes, it doubled, when gas went to $4.00 a gallon. Your own ridership figures skyrocketed too. More trains are also running now. The TOD projects that are ‘underway’ are, uh, NOT. “Boca Raton station” is a strip mall of retail that fronts the major arterial roadway and a bunch of parking; the train station is off and to the back. I saw absolutely nothing in Deerfield to indicate that anything’s being built.
  4. Mueller is a special case. The Triangle got done much more quickly; we’d see spades of dirt being turned by now on TODs on the Red Line if, indeed, it were capable of generating any TOD.

Some requirements to call something a TOD, from the VTPI; full list here:

  • The transit-oriented development lies within a five-minute walk of the transit stop, or about a quarter-mile from stop to edge. For major stations offering access to frequent high-speed service this catchment area may be extended to the measure of a 10-minute walk.
  • A balanced mix of uses generates 24-hour ridership. There are places to work, to live, to learn, to relax and to shop for daily needs.”
  • Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
  • Roadway space is allocated and traffic signals timed primarily for the convenience of walkers and cyclists.

Note that the Red Line, even if it operates every 15 minutes, is only part of their trip. The shuttle service on the downtown/UT end of the trip will never be fast, comfortable, or reliable. We can already tell, in other words, that the development in Leander won’t be real TOD – it’s already on track to fail at least four of the metrics even if they do everything right with their buildings.

Tri-Rail has been running for almost 20 years now. There’s still precisely zero square feet of TOD. Not surprising when you read what you need to answer the question “Is it really TOD?”. Light rail can do it. Heavy urban rail can do it. Commuter rail can’t and never will. They may use TOD as an excuse to upzone to what the market was already clamoring for, as demonstrated by Crestview (vs. the Triangle), or they may actually be trying to get it done, but it ain’t gonna happen – people aren’t going to pay a financial premium to live next to a train that doesn’t go anywhere worth going without transfers.

(In case you’re wondering, the CAMPO TWG streetcar/light-rail plan could produce TOD, especially on East Riverside, by the way, because people would be able to board a train operating at high frequencies in reserved guideway that would go straight downtown, to the Capitol, or to UT, without requiring transfers. People will pay more than they would otherwise be willing to pay if they’re provided with a reliable time-certain trip straight to work or school, i.e., that doesn’t ask them to get off a train and onto a bus, or even off a train and onto another train)

Possibly The Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Heard From Capital Metro, And That’s Saying A Lot

I just heard from an acquaintance with the Austin Streetcars group that, at Tuesday’s meeting for Future Connections, the Capital Metro consultant pointed at the ends of the UT shuttle bus line as examples of “Bus TOD” to presumably answer the complaint that I (and nearly everyone else in the world) state about TOD (transit-oriented development) and buses, namely, that it simply doesn’t happen in this country unless you have frequent rail transit, not just buses. In Europe, where gas is six bucks a gallon and there’s no parking anyways, you can get it with a bus station, but even there, the focus is on rail transit.

Good lord. I don’t even know where to begin with this, but I’ll try anyways. While I expect Capital Metro to continue with bogus claims that they can get TOD from the commuter rail line and maybe even the Rapid Bus line, I didn’t think even they would go so far out into left-field as to claim you can get TOD from regular, crappy, city buses.

  1. I’m pretty sure the apartment complexes predate the shuttle bus lines, at least some of them did, and their density is, if anything, lower than apartment complexes elsewhere (some are only two stories instead of the typical three you get in MF-3 zoning, for instance).
  2. Those apartment complexes have just as much parking in just the same places as similar apartment complexes do along Jollyville, or Metric Blvd. In fact, transit coverage of the Far West area is poor, except if you want to go to UT during classtime. Riverside, at least, has decent transit coverage, but you have to walk a long ways to get to them. In NEITHER place is there EVER any incentive to use transit other than to get to class – it’s going to be FAR easier and FAR quicker to use that car conveniently (and freely) parked in the lot next to your door. The very OPPOSITE of TOD.
  3. There’s no mixed-use development of any kind in the vicinity of either ‘student slum’. If you dodge driveways and walk a long ways one direction to get out of the area where there’s only apartments, you get to an area where there’s only single-family houses. If you walk a long ways the other direction, you get to an area where there’s only strip-malls. NOWHERE do you find a place where there are buildings with offices or apartments on top and retail on the bottom.
  4. Neither area is remotely pedestrian-friendly. You have to walk a long ways to get to those strip malls, and then cross a huge surface parking lot to get to the stores. Again, this is the very OPPOSITE of TOD.

Any more? Man, I’m flabbergasted that they could sink this low. It’s one thing to claim that buses can generate TOD (some people claim that BRT, at least, can do it). It’s quite another to point to two student slums as your example.

You don’t get TOD with buses (or commuter rail)

I still have the RealVideo from the City Council Meeting up (was following the Shoal Creek debacle) and there’s a well-meaning guy from Oak Hill trying to get the Council to approve a TOD out there on a Rapid Bus line. Time to dispel a few illusions:

  1. You don’t get TOD without the perception of permanence. Rapid Bus ain’t it. Even BRT ain’t it. Only rail works. People don’t buy into a development where getting to their cars is expensive or inconvenient UNLESS the transit alternative is clearly going to be there for the long-haul. Buses’ infamous “flexibility” works against them here.
  2. You don’t get TOD with commuter rail. You need frequent headways (which this line won’t have) and one-stop rides to some major destinations (which this line won’t have). So even on our commuter rail line, TOD ain’t gonna happen.

What CAN you put on the ground to stimulate TOD? Something like our 2000 light rail plan (which would have been a one-stop ride from northwest Austin through the center-city to UT, the Capitol, and downtown) works, in city after city after city after city after city. Subways and monorails would work too – there’s no chance those rails are going away next year. Buses don’t. Not even fancy buses with nice signs at their stops which tell you how much delayed your next bus is since it’s stuck in traffic behind everybody else’s car.

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).