In early versions of the All Systems Go literature, the Rapid Bus line on Lamar/Guadalupe was described as a “placeholder for possible future urban rail”. This corridor is the only one in our area which has sufficient existing residential density to support urban rail (light rail or otherwise).
Many of the people who are holding their nose and voting yes on the commuter rail plan appear to still think that they can get light rail on this corridor even if this commuter rail plan passes. I’ve discussed on several occasions the technical problems with that idea – in short: the original 2000 route would be out due to vehicle/track incompatibilities, and a route continuing north on Lamar instead of bending northwest would be out due to speed and demographics (far fewer northeast Austin residents work at downtown/UT/capitol than do northwest residents).
More simply, though, one can simply look at the language of Capital Metro themselves. The current version of the ASG plan drops the “placeholder” phrase entirely – and recent quotes from Fred Gilliam are particularly damning:
What Capital Metro does not intend to do, at least in the foreseeable
future, is have lanes of city streets dedicated solely to bus traffic. When
that occurs, the system is called “bus rapid transit.” Lacking those lanes,
Capital Metro calls its proposal rapid bus. But Gilliam made it clear he’d
like to reverse those two words in the long run.
“My hope is that . . . eventually we will get to bus lanes,” Gilliam said. “But
our plan is not designed around having to have them.”
Back when Fred took over from Karen Walker, he made some pro-BRT and anti-LRT statements which I have been unable to locate. Thankfully his recent comments remove the need for me to do so – it’s pretty clear which way Fred intends to go for Lamar/Guadalupe, and it’s going to be Bus Rapid Transit.
What is Bus Rapid Transit, you ask? Well, it’s Rapid Bus with bus lanes. You get most of the reliability and speed of light rail, but you get none of the comfort, perceived quality (suburbanites don’t like buses, remember?), and perceived permanence. Studies in this country have shown pretty conclusively that you get redevelopment and infill with rails that you don’t get with buses – even Rapid Buses. If that doesn’t make sense to you, consider what it takes to move Rapid Bus service to a different road versus moving rail service.