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Austin Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want Funding of Transportation I Told You So Transit in Austin Transportation

CM reserves down to effectively nothing

Please help me fill in the ?????. Thanks in advance.

An IM conversation with my gracious host, doctor just a moment ago:
[12:33] (gracious host): After a lifetime of working, paying taxes and raising three children on her own, Wilder is struggling. She said she retired on disability from M&T Bank three years ago after undergoing knee replacement and back surgeries. She lives on her Social Security and disability benefits. Last year, she petitioned the bankruptcy court for protection from creditors. She said she did not have to pay federal income taxes last year because her income was too low. “I don’t want to see this country turn into a welfare, nanny state, where we stand in line for groceries, and we’re in welfare lines, and in socialized medicine lines,” Wilder said.
[12:33] (gracious host): http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html
[12:33] mdahmus: fuh guh buh
[12:35] (gracious host): with appologies to the Princess Bride…. socialism… You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
[12:35] mdahmus: my favorite comment so far: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html#3333987

Cross-posted from the twitter which is about all I have time for right now:
Was there any doubt? CM was being truthy about reserves/quarter-cent money: Statesman article ( also see: helpful chart ).
This happened, ask in short, bronchitis because Capital Metro pursued a cheap rail plan that was so cheap the Feds didn’t want any part of it (45M originally promised to voters from Feds now spent out of reserves) – then, a combination of typical overruns and not-so-typical incompetence (and a bit of overruns caused by under-engineering) led to even more spending out of reserves. When they say they have enough money to pay Austin the commitments they made in the past, they are lying. They clearly don’t have the money; didn’t back then; and Ben Wear deserves some apologies from some Capital Metro employees at this point.

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Austin Charts and Graphs Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want Funding of Transportation Republicans Hate Poor People Republicans Hate Public Transportation Republicans Hate The Environment Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Transit in Austin Transportation

Red Line: Taxes versus benefits

I am not surprised, therapy story although still disappointed, neurologist to see this kind of logic defending not only the decision to run a red light but fight it in court.

Was riding from the gym to work one fine November morning down Congress Ave. Got pulled over by a motorcycle cop and another cop in a patrol car. They gave me a ticket for running a red light. I tried explaining how it wasn’t dangerous since I stopped at the light, prescription looked for oncoming traffic and pedestrians, then proceeded. Nevertheless, I got a moving violation and a $275 ticket, just like if I was driving a Chevy Silverado at speed.
I sent in my ticket pleading not guilty and waving pre-trial hearing.
I got a court date.
I went to court.
The case was dismissed. Not sure if it was because the officer didn’t show up or what. My online case summary says “Dismissed Insufficient Evidence”
Overall, I’d say my in-court experience was very good. The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes. I would recommend anyone who received similar tickets to do the same. I was tempted to just pay the fine and move on with life, but glad that I didn’t. Traffic laws shouldn’t be black and white/ bikes are cars.

Grow up, kids. There is no moral justification for you running that red light that doesn’t apply to any of us when we drive, yet I’m sure that most of you, save one idiosyncratic former colleague of mine, don’t want cars doing it. And every time you shoot back with some moronic drivel about how “bikes aren’t cars”, you make it harder to protect the rights of bikes to be on the roadway. “They aren’t cars; you admitted it,” they’ll say, “so get the hell on the sidewalk”.
(by PabloBM on flickr)

I spent years fighting for bicycle facilities and accomodations and basic rights on the Urban Transportation Commission. Many times, we lost a battle we should have won, because idiots like you made it easy for neighborhoods to argue their reactionary case (i.e. Shoal Creek). Whether you’re a racer in bright plumage who doesn’t want to get out of your clipless pedals or a budding young anarchist who thinks the law doesn’t apply to you, it was often your fault when stuff like the Shoal Creek debacle happened. Neighborhood nitwits would make the case that we shouldn’t prioritize bicycle treatments over on-street parking, for instance, because ‘those cyclists don’t care about other road users’ anyways. And it worked, because they were right: you idiots don’t care about other road users.

Don’t feed me the crap about how you can’t hurt anybody with your bike. It’s not true; I almost wrecked a car ten years ago trying to avoid killing an idiot just like you who ran a light across 24th.
(Yes, in case you’re wondering, it was being ganged up on by the Juvenile Anarchist Brigade in a discussion just like this one that finally chased me off the austin-bikes list after years and years of contributing there – after not being allowed to fight fire with fire. Thanks, Mike Librik).

So you, unnamed wanker on the austin-bikes list, are the second recipient of my Worst Person in Austin award.

Congratulations. And ATXBS.com comes in a close second for backing him up on this one.

Even though I’m 96 years old, info I found myself defending teenagers twice recently – as per the following comment on this post on Steve Crossland’s local real estate blog (which I’m also adding a long-overdue link to today). Steve was arguing that the quality of contractors he uses as a property manager is declining dramatically (as a landlord of one unit myself, I can definitely agree with his point), but then placed the blame mostly on today’s kids not wanting to work hard. My response:

I had this same conversation with my dad over Xmas, or at least one very much like it, and I ended up defending teenagers.
Why is it that when we talk about ourSELVES, and our work choices, we think we’re being rational economic actors when we decide to pursue work that offers us the greatest compensation for our effort (whether that be strictly financial or some other compensation), but we expect teenagers to work crappy jobs for low pay just because we had to do it?
Frankly, the importation of so much illegal labor has made it a suckers’ game for teenagers to do a lot of that hard work. My dad was complaining more about fast-food workers all being illegals because the kids didn’t ‘want’ to do that work (I had to point out to him that when I was in high school, the local McDonald’s briefly raised wages to $5.00/hour in the $3.35 minimum days and then had no problem whatsoever getting local kids to work there).
If economics is a good reason for you and I to pick certain jobs, it’s a good reason for them, too. So if you want better tradesmen, you’re going to have to get the contractors to give up on the illegals first, and then invest a bit more in wages to attract locals (no, there’s no such thing as a “job Americans won’t do”, but there damn well are jobs they won’t do for a specified wage – as is true with any occupation).
And like with my field, if you allow outside-of-the-market competition to take all the entry-level jobs (or, if you prefer, discourage Americans from pursuing those jobs), you’re going to see an eventual erosion of the more advanced jobs, too, because you don’t become an experienced senior guy at trade X without spending a number of years working as the junior guy. You touched on this briefly with regards to your favorite handyman, but misidentified the cause.
Insisting that teenagers give up more attractive or more lucrative options just to suffer so we can feel better, uh, ain’t gonna happen.

Austin Bike Blog author Elliott talks about a big meeting with a bunch of folks I usually like and then paraphrases in part 2 from his conversation with the guest of honor:

I also asked him what we could be doing to make Austin better for its citizens. He suggested dedicated bus lanes and bikeways on our busiest transit corridors would do a lot to get people out of their cars (We discuss the route of Capital Metro’s #1 bus which passes within walking distance of 40% of Austin’s employers.)

Gee, price I wonder if there was anybody making the point, say, in 2003-2004, that passing this idiotic commuter rail plan dooms us to basically never getting reserved-guideway transit service on the #1 route along which essentially all the dense employment centers are located? How many of the notables at this meeting (*) spoke up then?
None. M1EK had to do it all his lonesome, even giving up his position on the UTC to do it while everybody else who knew this was the wrong plan shamelessly kept their mouth shut to preserve their access to decision-makers.
Thanks, guys. Thanks a hell of a lot.
(* – like most of these meetings, I, of course, since I have a real job in a real office, couldn’t attend).
Our options going forward are extremely limited. We can’t politically or even pragmatically justify taking lanes on Lamar and Guadalupe now, since we can’t continue northwest with frequent-enough LRT service to get enough people on the trains to make up for the lost car/bus capacity. The CAMPO TWG plan is foundering, but may, twenty years from now, eventually lead to a conversation about rail on Guadalupe, where it belongs now, always has, and always will.
In the meantime, pay attention: those who advocate going along with suburban or other non-Austin interests in the hopes that they’ll take care of us later have a long record of failure to overcome. Everybody knows the #1 corridor is where most transit activity is now and will be in the future. What are we doing about it? Jack Squat.
Update: Elliott’s response was a flavor of the common “why are you such a downer?”, to which I just let fly this analogy-ridden response:

Using my favorite roadtrip analogy:
1. You don’t get the car to New York by insisting that, although we’re heading west on I-10 and approaching the outskirts of El Paso, that everything’s fine and we’re on target for New York – although we may need to go even farther west to get there.
2. You also don’t get the car to New York by letting the guy who read the map wrong the first time continue to think that he read it correctly and should therefore continue to navigate. You give the map to the guy who said you’re supposed to be going northeast rather than west.
3. You also don’t get that car to your destination by downplaying how far off course you went, or you might end up out of gas before you even get back to square one (Austin).
4. Finally, you don’t get your goal by telling the people you’re meeting in New York that you’re still on schedule, even though you’re now, at best, going to be two days late.
(1 = more investment in the Red Line, 2 = not identifying that commuter rail is the problem rather than the solution, 3 = not identifying that commuter rail prevents the 2000 LRT plan from being built, 4 = downplaying obstacles to getting rail on Guadalupe in the real world now that it can’t continue northwest along 2000 alignment).

PS: Crappy formatting care of the fact that I still haven’t bothered to learn CSS. You’re lucky I didn’t do all this with tables, so quit yer yappin’.

Courtesy of the Statesman: For Laura Morrison and Brian Rodgers, geriatrician backroom deals are fine. The irony? This is a backroom deal to define exactly how much openness we’ll require in the future.

Morrison said that, pharm broadly speaking, viagra approved she wanted to make the process more open and add opportunities for public input. But she declined last week in a phone interview to release the draft. The reason, she said, was because she and Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Randi Shade had to meet with more stakeholders before making it public, and that releasing it would give the public an inaccurate view of how it could eventually look.
Morrison had shared her draft with at least one member of the public, Brian Rodgers. That made the draft public, according to open-records attorney Joel White. He added that open-records laws require information requested to be disclosed as soon as possible, and that the 10-day response period is an “outer deadline.”
[…]
We’re still waiting, even though the city is required to release it as soon as possible and Morrison could do so by simply opening her inbox and hitting “send.”

Anybody who believed all that nonsense probably feels as foolish now as I may be feeling soon about the “Meeker = McCracken’s tool” stuff. The entire momentum behind Morrison’s campaign and behind Rodgers’ initiative was to make sure only the right people got input because, technically, we ALL got public input when we elected our city councilpeople. Of course, people with real jobs can’t be at city council during the day and people with family responsibilities can’t spent their days, nights, and evenings as ‘stakeholders’, but, again, that’s the way the ‘granola mafia’ likes it: government by those with the most time on their hands.

I don’t have time for anything but a quick hit, visit so here you go:
As the Statesman indicates, there some councilmembers, most notably Mike Martinez, are balking at the cost of the proposed gigantic solar photovoltaic plant out in the middle of nowhere.
This is a good objection. I commented to this effect at the austinist last week.
One of the primary benefits of solar PV is as a peak demand displacer/replacer. Why would you want that capacity at the other end of your distribution network from the actual customers, where you undergo all the normal distribution losses and don’t get any ancillary benefits for the customer, like shade (cooler roof)?
If you want to invest a bunch of money in PV, and don’t want it to be simply rebates for customer systems, then build an Austin Energy photovoltaic farm on top of a bunch of short, wide, buildings with air-conditioning needs. Like the Convention Center, or the millions of warehouses up off Metric, or Costco. AE still owns the energy, but it’s being delivered to the grid far more efficiently than from the Webberville location.
(Also, an eastern location is kind of stupid as well – there’s a non-trivial difference in hours of sunlight between west and east Austin).
In short, since unlike a coal or natural gas plant, you don’t have to put it in the middle of nowhere, why on earth would you want to, and suffer the same drop-off in power due to transmission that they do? Why not take advantage of the few things solar PV is unquestionably better at – nobody minds it if there’s solar panels on a roof nextdoor; and everybody loves some free shade.
If you wanted to build a solar plant in the middle of nowhere, given all the above, what should you do? Solar thermal – i.e. the mirrors that focus on a bunch of molten salt. Much more efficient than PV, and there are no ancillary benefits like shade that go to waste when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

Newsweek has a decent story with which I only partly agree, order but the best parts are bits like this one:

Let’s say you’re a tenured professor of economics at Harvard. You have—and have earned—a great deal of stability and security. Your job is guaranteed, view at pretty much the same salary, until retirement. Your employer, which has been around for more than 350 years, isn’t going anywhere.

[…]

If you believe the typical American worker would respond to tax cuts the way a typical tenured Harvard economist would, then it makes all the sense in the world to focus on tax cuts to the exclusion of other types of stimulus. But if you believe the typical American worker might respond to tax cuts the way, say, a typical Cambridge-area worker would, you might be less sure.

I’ve always been skeptical of economists with tenure telling me how I should think about globalization, for instance. Of course, Dr. Mankiw turned off comments at his blog some time ago, so he’ll never get any feedback with which he’s uncomfortable – one more way in which he’s more like those he served at the Bush administration than he would like you to believe.

So a bit more detail has surfaced, ampoule and it turns out that Capital Metro, according to the short description in the latest stimulus proposal from our local governments, is now asking for federal dollars to, hold on your hats:
triple-track the Red Line.
The theory, I guess, is to keep freight service in the middle, and run the DMU trains on the outside tracks.
Here’s what I’m writing to City Council, as we speak:

Dear councilmembers:
Please exercise whatever authority you deem necessary to stop Capital Metro’s insane attempt to use federal stimulus dollars to, as the poorly detailed proposal goes, “triple-track the Red Line”. This is a disastrous attempt to throw good money after bad – the Red Line, even if it had ten tracks, will still never be able to deliver passengers directly to their final destinations, unlike good light rail starter lines in places like Dallas and Houston. This is, and will always be, a commuter rail line that requires people transfer to shuttlebuses, or in the distant future, another rail vehicle, to get to their offices or other destinations.
Investing money in this corridor and this technology is exactly the kind of foolish decision that Capital Metro should be stopped from making – just like how you stopped them from the initial attempt to run Rapid Bus down Guadalupe – another investment of many dollars with little prospective return.
Instead, I urge you to seek federal dollars for the CAMPO TWG urban rail plan – which, unlike Capital Metro’s awful commuter line, can and will serve residents of the city of Austin by directly connecting major activity centers without ridership-killing transfers. It, unlike commuter rail, can eventually be expanded to more and better destinations and dense residential areas. It, unlike commuter rail, can and will generate transit-oriented development which pays the city back and then some for our investment.
In 2004, Capital Metro ignored the needs of their consituents and bought into a technology and route which is a dead-end that can never really be a competitive option for the business of Austin commuters. Even for residents of Leander, the Red Line (with shuttle transfer) is only competitive if we ignore the express buses that already exist today.
Please stop them before they do it again. We don’t have enough rail dollars (local or federal) to build both this ghastly abomination and the urban rail core that can one day bring us what many other light-rail cities have succeeded with.
Sincerely,
Mike Dahmus
City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

The first in a new series by M1EK, visit this inspired by various internet fun and maybe Dmitri Martin, more about except not so much funny as it is sad.

Cedar Park and Round Rock pay 0 to Capital Metro. “Other” includes some portions of unincorporated Travis County and a few small jurisdictions like Jonestown. 93% of CM’s budget supposedly comes from the city of Austin (you lately more typically hear “over 90%”).

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Austin Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want Driving in Austin Funding of Transportation Republicans Hate Poor People Republicans Hate Public Transportation Republicans Hate The Environment Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Transportation Worst Person In Austin

Don’t Let The Door Hit You…

This is pretty amazing. Thanks to Barry Ritholtz for finding it.
The original:

The update:

True.

These guys LOST TO OLE MISS. AT HOME.
No, valeologist Ole Miss isn’t magically superpowered because they happen to be in the SEC. Here’s where Florida stacks up against Penn State so far this year:

Rank (Sagarin PREDICTOR) Team Result
14 Georgia Florida 49, web Georgia 10 (Neutral Site)
15 Ohio State Penn State 13, infertility @Ohio State 6

Looks pretty good so far, right? Not so fast. The next entries for Florida:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30

Huh. One thing sure seems to jump out at you, doesn’t it? But surely this doesn’t show anything, right? Penn State hasn’t played anybody that good at home, right? Let’s expand that section of the table:

Rank (SAGARIN PREDICTOR) Team Result
19 Oregon State @Penn State 45, Oregon State 14
23 LSU @Florida 51, LSU 21
27 Illinois @Penn State 38, Illinois 24
30 Ole Miss Ole Miss 31, @Florida 30
39 Wisconsin Penn State 48, @Wisconsin 7
52 Tennessee Florida 30, @Tennessee 6

Well, I’m sure we’ll figure out some new reason why Florida deserves it more. Keep on trucking, internet warriors!

As part of an excellent series of takedowns of BRT, psychotherapist the San Francisco Bike Blog has written an excellent rebuttal to the frequent claims that BRT or Rapid Bus plans can function as stepping stones towards light rail. One relevant excerpt relating to a transitway in Ottawa that was designed to be convertible to LRT::

The study concludes that with limited financial resources, for sale it is better to invest in new rapid transit corridors than to replace an existing one. It is not considered cost-effective to convert the Transitway to LRT at this time.

Please check out the rest. There’s a lot more good stuff in the other links from Jeff’s collection as well, mind including impacts on the urban environment from smelly, noisy, uncomfortable buses versus electric trains.
In our case, our potential investments in our completely useless Rapid Bus plan are completely nonportable to light rail (the stations are on the wrong side, for instance). Ironically, as the linked story points out, every improvement that could be made to make Rapid Bus more like Bus Rapid Transit would make it less likely we’d ever see light rail on the #1 corridor.

Quick reminder as I prepare to go on a business trip. The reason we need to subsidize projects like the Domain, cheap and especially Mueller, stomatology is that existing crappy strip malls actually cost us (the city) more money than they make but thanks to our suburban zoning code, story they are the only thing that can be built without special subsidy or regulatory relief.

Read that again. You heard me right – Brian Rodgers’ strip malls are already getting subsidized via the tax code and already get regulatory preference in the zoning code. We tax by land and improvement value rather than assessing based on the costs generated by retail – and strip retail is the worst on this scale, since, for one simple example, if you want to visit a half-dozen different stores on Anderson Lane, you may have to move the car 6 times(!). That’s not good for Austin, and it shouldn’t be subsidized – but if we can’t change the tax/regulatory code, and the neighborhoods won’t let us do that, then at least we can attempt to level the playing field by subsidizing their more sustainable competition.

I’ll try to fill this argument in with some backing data when I get more time, but I thought it important to say this right after the election, since he and SDS are making noise about how close they got. The only reason it was that close is because most people have no idea how much of the status quo isn’t natural or ‘choice’; but actually the result of public policy that has favored suburban crap like strip malls for decades.

It makes it even harder when a project like Mueller faces so much opposition from nearby neighborhoods that affordability has to be ‘bought down’ rather than provided through more reasonable density entitlements (subsidizing affordable housing is less efficient than getting the ridiculously low-density zoning out of the way and letting the market provide more supply, but local neighborhoods hate that, so we had to settle for this far-inferior option). No, Virginia, Mueller isn’t going to be high-density, not even close – the area around the Town Center, if it’s ever built, will approach but not exceed the density of the Triangle – i.e. moderate density mid-rises.

Update: Austin Contrarian argues that retail subsidies are bad but leaves a “design subsidy” hole large enough to admit both the Domain and Mueller, arguably. I’d have no problem dressing my position up in a similar fashion except that I suspect this is too nuanced for the average “corporations bad!” voter to accept.

PS: I believe on this issue that I’m now More Contrarian Than The Austin Contrarian. Woo?
CNN’s Campbell Brown’s words ring true in relation to this pantload, impotent whom the media never bothered to fact-check on anything:

Brown spoke of the “false equivalency” that’s often practiced in journalism. “Our view is that when Candidate A says it’s raining outside, and Candidate B says it’s sunny, a journalist should be able to look outside and say, ‘Well it’s sunny, so one of these guys is wrong,'” she told Stewart.

Guess what? Sal Costello was wrong on almost everything he ever said. But you wouldn’t know that for reading the Statesman, or the Chronicle, or even Burnt Orange Report – and the transportation discourse has suffered drastically for it. Instead of flat-out telling their readers that Costello’s position wasn’t true, they, at best, alluded to it indirectly, assuming people would get it. They didn’t. As a result, people now honestly believe his bullshit about being double-taxed and the money supposedly diverted to ‘toll roads’ from ‘free’ways.
In this whole process, one might assume the losers are suburban motorists. Not so; the losers are central city Austin residents, both drivers and non-drivers, who have to continue the unfair process of paying for suburban commuters’ highways through both the gas tax subsidy and the property tax and sales tax subsidy. With toll roads, at least suburban commuters would have paid something closer to the cost of their choice to live out there. Now? Back to business-as-usual, meaning people who ride the bus in East Austin get to subsidize people driving in from Circle C. My environmentalist friends who think this means “no roads” are deluded – the phase II toll roads weren’t highways to nowhere like Southwest Parkway; there already exists sufficient commuting demand and more than enough political support to make these roads happen, whether ‘free’ or tolled.
Anyways, to our erstwhile Circle C Crackpot: don’t let the door hit you. And shame on you, reporters. It was raining the whole time, and you let people think there was an honest disagreement on the weather.
(The worst part? As I mentioned to a facebook friend, he actually made me feel a little bit sorry at one point for this guy. UNCLEAN).

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2008 Light Rail Austin Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want Economics Funding of Transportation I Told You So Personal Republicans Hate Poor People Republicans Hate Public Transportation Republicans Hate The Environment Texas Republicans Hate Cities Transit in Austin Transportation Urban Design

Austin Contrarian on Austin Rail

Sorry for the long break. I’ve been on business trips to Jebusland for 3 of the last 7 weeks, malady about it and had a vacation in the middle, angina and very busy even when here. Although I’m still busy, order I at least have a minute (not enough time to grab any good pictures; since my google-fu was too weak to get something quickly).

I took the family on a short vacation to visit family in State College, home of Penn State (where I went to school and spent the first 9 years of my life – my grandmother still lives in the same neighborhood as the Paternos). On this trip, since my wife is still recovering from Achilles surgery, we didn’t spend much time walking through campus as we normally would – we instead spent our time driving around the edges of campus. This was an interesting contrast for me, since I spend quite a bit of time driving around the edge of another major university’s campus right here in Austin. Let’s compare.

Penn State:

There’s a signed and marked bike route which starts on the north end of campus (which is bounded by the old residential neighborhood in which my grandmother lives). This bike route says “Campus and Downtown”. It was added shortly before my college years but has been improved since then on each end and consists mainly of off-street paths (sharrows on the street in the neighborhood north of campus, although done poorly). Automobile traffic can still enter the campus from the north in several places, but is then shunted off to the corners – you can no longer go completely through campus from north to south by automobile. Pedestrian accomodations on this side of campus haven’t changed for decades – a pleasant cool walk under tons and tons of trees.

On the south side of campus is the downtown area – the area most analogous to The Drag; fronting College Avenue, part of a one-way couplet which carries State Route 26 through the area (other half is two blocks away, called Beaver Avenue). College Avenue has two through lanes of traffic. Shops line the road at a pleasingly short pedestrian-oriented setback, except for a few places (one a church, one a surface parking lot). Pedestrians, counting both sides of the street, get a bit more space than do cars – and cars have to stop almost every block at a traffic light. The speed limit here is 25; you can rarely go that fast. There is plenty of on-street parking. Again, there’s places where cars can penetrate campus a bit, but they can’t go through campus this direction. Bicycle access from the south comes from a major bike route (with bike lanes that end short of campus) on Garner St. – which then allows bicyclists to continue while motorists have to exit by turning a corner towards the stadium. Two images of the corner of Allen and College from different angles:
College and Allen; shot by ehpien on flickr
From WikiMedia commons

East and west at Penn State aren’t as important – the west side fronts US 322 Business (and a major automobile access point was closed; a classroom building now spans the whole old highway!). The east side is primarily for access to sports facilities and the agricultural areas. Ped access from the west is mediocre unless you feel like going through that classroom building, but not very important if you don’t since there’s not much other reason to be over there. Access from the east is the main future area for improvement – although it’s still of a caliber that we would kill for here in Austin; with 2-lane roadways and 30-35 mph speed limits; traffic signals everywhere pedestrians go in reasonable numbers; etc.
Penn State and the town of State College have made it inviting to walk to and through campus, and have made it at pleasant as possible to bike there. Some students still drive, of course, but most cars are warehoused most of the time.

UTier2-West
On UT’s west side, Guadalupe is a wide choking monstrosity (4 car lanes with 2 bike lanes – one of which functions pretty well and the other of which was a good attempt that fails in practice due to bad driver behavior). On-street parking exists but is rather difficult to use for its intended purpose; but the merchants will still defend it tooth and nail. Despite having even more students living across this road that need to walk to UT than the analogous group at Penn State, there are fewer pedestrian crossings and they are far less attractive; and there is no bicycle access from the west that indicates any desire at all to promoting this mode of transportation. Although you can’t completely get through campus from west to east, you can get a lot farther in than you can at Penn State, and the pedestrian environment suffers for it. The city won’t put any more traffic signals on Guadalupe even though there’s thousands of pedestrians; and the built environment on Guadalupe is ghastly, with far too much surface parking and far too little in the way of street trees. This shot is about as good as it gets on Guadalupe:

(note: reformatted in 2015 and noticed the shot from 2008 is no longer available. Try this streetview for a representative sample).

On the east side of campus, there’s I-35. You’d think this would be much worse than the Guadalupe side for everybody, but at least bicyclists can use Manor Road, which is pretty civilized (better than anything on the west side). Pedestrians are pretty much screwed – noisy, stinky, and hot is no way to walk through life, son.

UT’s north side is similarly ghastly. A road clearly designed for high-speed motor vehicle traffic and then gruesomely underposted at 30 mph; way too wide and lots of surface parking. For pedestrians, this edge of campus sucks – for cyclists, it’s OK to penetrate, but then UT destroyed through access for cyclists by turning Speedway into UT’s underwhelming idea of a pedestrian mall (hint: this is what one really looks like). I could write a whole post on that (and may someday), but the short version is that years ago, UT came to our commission (UTC) with a master plan that crowed about how much they were promoting cycling, yet the only actual change from current conditions was destroying the only good cycling route to and through campus. Yeah, they put up showers and lockers – but that’s not going to help if the route TO the showers and lockers is awful enough, and it is. You’ll get a lot of cyclists at almost any university just because a lot of students won’t have cars and because parking isn’t free and plentiful, but if you really want to take it to the next level, I’m pretty confident that eliminating your one good bike route isn’t the way to go about it.

Since I went to Penn State (1989-1992), access for pedestrians and bicyclists has actually gradually improved, even though it already was much better than UT, and the campus has become more and more livable. More people walk and bike; fewer people drive; and it’s a more enjoyable place than it was before. Since I moved to Austin (1996), the environment for pedestrians and bicyclists travelling to and through UT has actually gotten worse – they’re still coasting on the fact that a lot of the area was developed before everybody had a car. Almost every decision they have made since then has been hostile to bicyclists and at least indifferent to pedestrians. As a result, a much larger proportion of students in the area have cars that they use much more often. (Just comparing near-campus-but-off-campus residents here). The recent long-overdue developments in West Campus are a start, but the built environment on the edge of campus has to dramatically change for UT to be anything more than laughable compared to other major college campuses’ interfaces with business districts.

Bonus coverage: The area I was staying in in Huntsville, AL is right next to the ‘campus’ for Alabama-Huntsville. The least said about that, the better – the area in general is like US 183 before the freeway upgrades, except even uglier (if that’s possible); and their campus has literally nowhere to walk to – my guess is that every student there has a car, even though the place is clearly not a commuter school.
A note I just sent to the morning show guys at KLBJ after I got to work late from the car dealer:

Ed and Mark, grip
I heard your conversation with Lamar Smith while coming late to work today from the car dealer. While his figure of 20% for ANWR’s possible increase to US oil production is higher than anything I’ve ever seen anybody say, that’s not the most relevant thing: the more important point is that oil is priced on the world market (it’s ‘fungible’), so it doesn’t matter whether the US produces 1% or 99% as much oil as we consume; what matters is the world supply and demand (unless we were to nationalize our oil industry and force ‘our’ oil to be sold to us at a discount).
I wrote a short post on this a few weeks ago; finding it ironic that the party that has stood for supposed economic literacy and against nationalization is proposing a plan that can only work if you ignore one or both. Here’s the link: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000515.html
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
mike@dahmus.org

Quick hit: About to leave on a business trip to Yuma, sickness and have to hit a discount store on the drive from Phoenix to pick up some stuff. Guess what, rheumatologist RG4N? information pills +Phoenix,+AZ&daddr=7409+W+Virginia+Ave,+Phoenix,+AZ&hl=en&geocode=&mra=ls&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=33.901528,72.861328&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=12″>The Target I’m going to hit is NOT “on the freeway”; nor is the mall across the street.

Since I’m stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, sildenafil please go over to Austin Contrarian’s take on Austin rail – to which I’ve commented a few times already.

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2008 Light Rail Austin Funding of Transportation Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid Republicans Hate Poor People Republicans Hate Public Transportation Republicans Hate The Environment Texas Republicans Hate Cities Transit in Austin Transportation

BRT is a fraud (so is Rapid Bus)

The acronym is for “Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved”.
I was impelled to get going again by witnessing a lady trying to keep her bike on about one inch of pavement on the uphill shoulderless windy part of Bee Caves this morning on my drive to work. Stay tuned for #3, advice help brave soul; there’s really no need for you to ride on that ungodly stretch.
Same format as before.
Bike Commutes I Have Known And Loved #2: Central Austin (Clarksville) to Northwest Austin (183 corridor) – four different offices in four years for S3.
Timeframe: June 1998- December 2001
Rough sketch of first half of route (the common part)
Common second part of routes to first, third, fourth offices (Bull Creek/Hancock to Mesa/Hyridge)
Second part of route to second, temporary, office (Spicewood Springs)
Final part of route to first office (Jollyville/Oak Knoll)
Final part of route to third office (Riata)
Final part of route to fourth office (Centaur)
Background: This is kind of a long one – S3 had one office when I started; were in negotiations to move to a nicer newer one but got stalled out by an acquisition which ended up pushing us into a temporary sublease for six months or so; and then when Via acquired S3, many of my coworkers left and I worked from home for a year, only to return to a temporary office in a building leased by Centaur (another of their companies) until S3 closed that office in December 2001, and I had to go find work in the middle of the dot-com bust (hooray!). All three share a common first third or so, and two are virtually identical, so they’re all grouped together here. The Riata commute was the one I actually made into the slideshow you see pictures from throughout this and the previous article.
Bike used: Mostly my old touring bike (since stolen) that I acquired for $200 used from austin.forsale.
Distance/Time: 10-15 miles each way; much longer in the morning due to hills – on days I biked all the way in on the longer versions, about 90-100 minutes. Trip home was 45 minutes or so.
Showers: Only the Riata office. For the mornings, I did the bus boost sometimes, and other times relied on cooler weather and the bathroom washcloth trick.
Route and comments:
By this point, I was becoming more comfortable asserting my position on the road, which is good since Jollyville didn’t yet have bike lanes.
First segments: To Bull Creek/Hancock: See first commute.
Second segment: Either up Shoal Creek or cross Mopac: The trick on all these commutes is where you shift from one good corridor (Bull Creek / Shoal Creek) to another (Mesa). There’s four crossings of Mopac which are accessible from here; I’ll briefly touch on them and talk about where I used them.

  1. Hancock: No on-ramps, which is nice, but a lot of debris, and requires a lot more hills if you are going particularly far north on the Mesa corridor. I used this crossing for the 2nd commute, at our temporary sublease on Spicewood Springs west of Mesa.
  2. Far West: A lot of novice cyclists take this one because the crossing TO Mopac is on a bike/ped bridge over the railroad, but then you’re dumped right into on-ramp traffic. I didn’t like this one as either a novice or an experienced cyclist.
  3. Spicewood Springs: Great downhill, but awful uphill – big hill, lots of traffic, ramps. Not recommended outbound. I used this one on the way home almost all the time.
  4. Steck: Best choice for uphill – least hill; most shade; least traffic (still have onramps to deal with, but they’re less busy than the other two choices). Downhill not so great – lose momentum at a 4-way stop.
  • Segment #3: (commute #2 only): I rode up Balcones (ignore the map where it says it’s part of Mopac; I picked the wrong segment on the map) – you can actually ride up high on a nice shoulder looking down at the traffic below; nice in the mornings. Then you get to go up a pretty bad but short hill on North Hills (where northbound traffic on Balcones ends), then follow North Hills parallel to Far West all the way up to Mesa. Commute #2 is basically done here – just head up Mesa in the hilly bumpy bike lanes, hop on Spicewood and head west.
    Segment #3: Shoal Creek to Steck (other 3 commutes): see last chapter.
    Segment #4: Shoal Creek to Mesa via Steck: Steck looks scary the first time but is actually very civilized – you can keep up with traffic on the downhill heading west, and by the time you slow down on the uphill, the light’s almost always red anyways. Crossing the bridge is the most stressful part – pump hard until you get to the other side to let the cars by, and then enjoy the shade on the short sharp uphill as the right lane turns into a bike lane. Then relax and go slow for a while and catch your breath. It’s a niice ride all the way up to Mesa – shade opportunities, little traffic, bike lane.
    Segment #5: Up Mesa. Mesa has bike lanes up here, still. Fought various battles with high school over cars parked in the bike lane for years – probably still happening now. Look for Hyridge (my last commute just went straight to the end of Mesa). Left on Hyridge.
    Segment #6: Across Loop 360. Two choices here; be a pedestrian and avoid a big hill, or be a cyclist and be tough. The pedestrian route takes you all the way to Old Jollyville, then left, then walk your bike across Loop 360 into the Arboretum. The less said the better (although if I got to this point and had no energy left, I did it once in a while). The bike route goes like this: Down Hyridge, split off at Mountain Ridge, BIG downhill, short uphill, and out to 360. Ride on shoulder for about 100 feet, then cut across traffic into the left turn lane for Arboretum Blvd (the cutout with no traffic light). Take your time here – no rush! Huge hill coming up. Turn across the southbound lanes onto Arboretum Blvd and then get ready for my least favorite hill – all the way up to the thing that looks like a roundabout but really isn’t at the Jollyville entrance to the Arboretum. I occasionally had to walk up this hill in the early days. The trip home is a bit different: Go through the uphill (183 side) of the Arboretum, hop on the 183 frontage for about 100 feet to get through the 360 light, then off on Old Jollyville. This is stressful at first but once you get used to it is no big deal, and you avoid some big hills.
    Segment #7: Up Jollyville: When I did these commutes, there were no bike lanes on Jollyville – but I was experienced enough not to need them (although I liked them when they showed up later). Nice flat (in comparison) ride – pick up some speed here and get a breeze going. Brutal the other way in the afternoon against the inevitable summer headwind out of the south. Very little traffic in the mornings by the late end of rush hour. On the Riata commute, I’d turn at Duval and head over to the 183 frontage; for the first office I’d head straight on to almost Oak Knoll and be done. (note my comment about high gas prices – zoom into the picture).
    Segment #8: Riata – luckily by this point I was pretty fearless as most people shy away from the frontage road. Not much traffic on this part – just quick hop from Duval to Riata Trace Parkway.
    Modifications for trip home: On all of these commutes, I’d cross Mopac on Spicewood Springs – a nice downhill from Mesa to Mopac with no stops; could easily keep up with the cars going 35. The light at Mopac was the only stressful bit; just pump hard to get over the railroad tracks and down the hill to Shoal Creek and then rejoin the outbound route.
    Bus boost possibility: Very high. The 183-corridor express buses drop off at Jollyville across from Riata (Riata actually got credit for being close to this park-and-ride, even though the road connecting Riata to it was cut in half by the freeway, requiring far too long a walk for anybody to really use the bus from there except as a cyclist). These buses are fast enough that you lose very little time compared to the drive, if you time your arrival correctly. (This applied to the two commutes out here; the other two had bus boost possibilities on the #19 in both cases and the #3 in the Centaur case – but those are slow in comparison). I used this express bus boost quite often – especially on days where I wanted to bike some but couldn’t afford to spend an extra 2 hours on it.
    Ratings:

      Rating Notes
    Physical difficulty 5 Big hills in spots in the morning. Afternoon is mostly easy except for the headwind stretch on Jollyville heading south
    Scary factor 7 Steck and 360 crossings scary – but there are less scary (although more hilly) alternatives.
    Exercise efficiency 9 out of 10 Large time investment required in morning but very strenuous exercise; afternoon commute took about 45 minutes compared to 35-40 in car.
    Enjoyment 5 out of 10 Nice and shady in spots; lots of waiting at lights.
    Services/Safety 9 out of 10 Plenty of opportunities to hop on a bus with a flat tire, which I had to do many times on these commutes. Plenty of convenience stores. A bike shop or two up north.

    Overall conclusion: A good medium commute – a novice would be advised to consider the pedestrian approach at 360 for a bit at the start or use the bus boost to avoid that altogether.

    I often make fun of commuter rail for not going where it needs to go – but in this case I’m kind of on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here’s a comment/letter I just sent the Chronicle in response to coverage of a recent UT meeting about streetcar:

    It would be really swell if every time this issue came up, visit people writing articles would be really clear about what’s being proposed by various folks, esophagitis especially on the issue of dedicated runningway (shared lane vs. reserved lane).
    For instance, viagra a streetcar on Speedway sounds a lot better to me too; and Guadalupe sounds better still, since Guadalupe is where all the current and most of the future residential density and other activity is. But are Black and Gadbois and whomever else suggesting reserved lanes on their routes (as in 2000’s light rail plan on Guadalupe), or that it would be sharing a lane with buses/cars (as in Cap Metro’s original, execrable, Future Connections proposal on San Jacinto)? This makes a HUGE difference – a streetcar without its own lane is actually even WORSE than a bus in speed and reliability – and is thus a complete waste of time and money.
    While we probably can’t now justify taking a lane on Guadalupe without the suburban ridership the 2000 route would have brought in, at least the McCracken/Wynn TWG proposal (streetcar running in dedicated lanes, albeit on San Jacinto) is capable of being expanded that direction later on; while commuter rail is a complete dead-end.

    The problem here is that a streetcar on the “right route” (Guadalupe) that doesn’t have its own lane will be even worse than the existing bus service there. Commuter rail has its own lane, in a sense, but doesn’t go anywhere you actually want to go – and your transfer is going to be to a crappy shuttle-bus stuck in traffic (without its own lane). I guess I slot San Jacinto somewhere in the middle between the poles of “where most people want to go” (Guadalupe) and “nobody wants to go” (Airport Blvd). But the biggest difference is that streetcar that runs on San Jacinto in its own lane might someday be able to be branched over to Guadalupe while commuter rail can never be brought anywhere you actually want to go.

    on 590 KLBJ. A fortuitous series of coincidences – I was unable to sleep this morning so was heading in very early; in the car; listening to the morning show and I called in, neurologist and actually got the screener right away – and they held me for a full segment at about 7:20. The format is difficult – I think I hit all the major points but of course didn’t make too much headway with those guys, read more but would be interested to hear from anybody who was listening.
    Points I hit:

    • More commuter (heavy) rail service isn’t helpful (response to Ed); can’t get close enough to walk to where you want to go, and no, people won’t transfer to buses from trains if they won’t take much better express buses straight to their destination today.
    • This system will likely have its own lane on much of its route – meaning it won’t be ‘competing’ with cars in the sense most people understand it.
    • Taxes: Yes, there will likely be some tax-increment-financing (one of the more likely financing buckets floated by Councilmember McCracken). No, it’s not reasonable to complain that this only benefits central Austin – first, it benefits commuter rail passengers, and second, central Austin generates most of Capital Metro’s tax revenues.
    • A couple trains can carry as many people as a traffic lane on one of these streets can carry in a whole hour. So if you run more than a couple per hour, you’re increasing commuting capacity into downtown.
    • I’d prefer the 2000 light rail plan, which is basically what everybody else did that has succeeded.

    Chime in if you were up early enough to hear, please. I’m always nervous that I talk too fast / stutter in events like this.

    This is going to be a bit disjoint – I’m typing this at 6:25 at a Pizza Hut in Huntsville, malady AL (no buffet; waiting for my personal pan pizza; do they still do this?) after having gotten up at 4AM to fly to Nashville and then drive 2 hours down here, then working all day with the other companies on a project for my day job.
    After the original unveiling of the streetcar plan promised complete dedicated guideway, ROMA has begun the inevitable backing away process – now saying that dedicated guideway is unlikely on Manor and Congress. Neither one makes sense, but ROMA is likely a believer in the “magic streetcar fairy dust” (note to readers: remind me to write an article on this phenomenon; in short: the theory that streetcars are so great that people won’t mind being stuck in traffic). Let’s look at Manor in particular.
    At the original public unveiling of the plan, yours truly stood up and asked why Manor couldn’t be singletracked instead of condemning right-of-way to build dedicated doubletrack. An anonymous jackass on the skyscraperpage forum (who I believe to be either Lyndon Henry or Dave Dobbs) scoffed at the idea, but it’s time to consider it again, since ROMA has apparently decided that expanding the right-of-way of Manor is now off the table.
    The problem: Manor doesn’t have enough width for a car lane each way and one “train lane” each way. (Current configuration is 2 bike lanes, 2 through lanes, and a center-turn lane). There’s ALMOST enough width to run reserved-guideway rail and keep one through lane each way if you lose the bike lanes, but not quite. The old configuration of Manor prior to the installation of bike lanes was 4 through lanes, but they were probably too narrow to support car next to train operation (at least, that’s what I’m assuming).
    ROMA’s solution: Run the streetcar in with regular traffic. Sounds fine, right? There’s not much traffic on Manor today by any reasonable standard.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks: If there’s going to be enough traffic headed downtown to fill streetcars in 5 years when a lot more people live at Mueller, there’s also going to be a lot more people driving on Manor (which is the smartest driving route to UT, and probably right up there for the Capitol and downtown). So the conditions today that make it look like cars would never slow down the train (much) are misleading – most of the cars that will be there in 5 years aren’t there now.
    M1EK’s solution: Single-track reserved guideway. This stretch is very short (took about two minutes to drive down in the cab on the way to the airport at 4:45 this morning). Initial frequency is set for “every 10 minutes”. You ought to be able to keep this as single-track and maintain that schedule with no problems – but if that’s too close for comfort, bulb out at a station right in the middle – voila, two shorter single-track segments, and you only need to condemn a sliver of land around that station rather than along the whole stretch.
    Why M1EK’s solution stinks: Trains will still compete with each other; schedules will suffer.
    Why ROMA’s solution stinks more: Trains will lose a lot more schedule time stuck behind cars than they will waiting for an oncoming train to clear the single-track section, on average.
    Why magical streetcar fairy dust partisans will still dislike M1EK’s solution: “You can’t expand your solution into dedicated double-track”. One track right in the middle of what used to be the center turn lane is right in the middle of where two tracks would need to be – you can’t reuse that track.
    Why it’s not any worse than ROMA’s solution on that metric: The rails on which the shared-lane streetcar will run are also going to be in the wrong place – you can’t magically change those into reserved guideway either (unless you completely close Manor off to cars). In fact, M1EK’s solution allows for a more incremental approach – where you can gradually acquire more right-of-way and shift the double-to-single-track transitions further out away from the station(s).
    Does anybody else ever do this? Yes, Baltimore had single-track on their light rail line for quite a while (maybe still do; I haven’t kept up to speed on their system).
    Congress Avenue is a much easier case, by the way; it’s largely an aesthetic objection (reserved guideway should run in the middle of the street, but some people with absolutely no grounding in history are upset about the caternary wires in front of the view of the Capitol – forgetting that for 50 years or more, that’s exactly what we had).

    A quick hit from Orphan Road in Seattle; excerpts:

    BRT is neither cheaper nor faster to build. No matter what you might say about a mixed system or buses needed as feeders or matching the traffic requirements with the market, order at the end of the day, healing BRT is most likely to be a fraud.
    I’ll let other people be “reasonable” and concede that, if you grant a lot of things that never will happen, BRT “might” work. When I look around at all these existing BRT implementations and find delay, financial ruin, and angry riders, I’ve had enough. BRT is a fraud.

    Also of note from the BRT example city of Curitiba are these scalability problems courtesy of The Overhead Wire:

    During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

    All of this (and more) applies to Rapid Bus. The investment is high – and the payoff is nearly zero; you’re still stuck with an awful vehicle that can’t get through traffic congestion like light rail does all over the country. No wonder the highway guys push for BRT (and its dumber sibling, Rapid Bus) so much – it’s not a threat to them. The Feds are pushing it now because the Bush guys have finally wrecked the FTA – but that doesn’t make it a good idea; it makes it something to pretend to consider until saner hands take the till.
    Capital Metro needs to cut this out right now and put this money into something that works – like the light rail proposal which, unlike Rapid Bus, is at least something that has worked in other cities and can insulate us from diesel costs in the future.

  • Categories
    Austin Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want Funding of Transportation I Told You So Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Texas Republicans Hate Cities Transit in Austin Transportation

    Rapid Bus Still Ain’t Rapid

    OUTLINE
    don’t bet against me on futurism
    cornupcopians think economic incentives will result in a new power source
    survivorship bias
    economics might instead result in severe pain, hair web esp for economies that have no other options
    what about batteries?
    – energy density
    – life
    – limits inherent in periodic table

    A quick hit, viagra since I’m about to go to bed early with a raging ear infection while on a business trip to scenic Huntsville, visit this site AL. This is a comment I just posted on Cap Metro’s blog in response to the announcement that they’re shooting again for “rapid” bus on the only good rail corridor in the city.

    Rapid Bus continues to be a complete waste of time and money – our council members were right to put the kibosh on it the last time through. Investing this much money on a half-baked solution for the most important transit corridor in Austin is stupid, prostate especially since this particular solution won’t actually work here (too many times the traffic backup goes far beyond the light immediately in front of the bus in question).
    In other cities, and in a smarter Austin, we’d be seeing packed light rail trains run down Lamar and Guadalupe by now. There is no way rapid bus can provide enough mobility benefits here to be worth a tenth the investment you’re going to dump into this dead-end technology; and I hope our council members cut this program off again.
    It’s time to demand that the residents of Austin, who provide almost all of Capital Metro’s funds, get some rail transit rather than spending our money providing train service to suburbs like Cedar Park that don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes. Rapid bus is an insult to the taxpayers of Austin, and it’s not going to be rapid.

    I urge each and every of the ten readers of this crackplog to write to your city council members and ask them to stop Capital Metro from spending money on this ridiculous project – if CM feels like spending some money serving Austin for a change, there are far better projects on which to do it.

    Categories
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    The Buses Aren’t Empty, Part VIII

    My neighborhood‘s latest newsletter contains some thrilling sour grapes about VMU:

    In June 2007, more about abortion at the request of the City without any help the City staff, NUNA and the rest of the Neighborhood Planning area (CANPAC, the official planning team for the whole area) which includes Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest Caswell Heights, and UAP (University Area Partners) submitted the mandated application for VMU (Vertical Mixed Use). Vertical Mixed Use is applied to commercial zoning (CS) only; it must have a commercial and residential component on the ground floor and subsequent floors, respectively. Vertical MIxed Use does NOT affect height or height limits imposed on a neighborhood/area. VMU was based on the UNO overlay in the West Campus area, except it seems to be a watered down version of this overlay. In a sense, our planning area, CANPAC, was ahead of the “curve” here. VMU is something which not all areas of the City had, so this concept/zoning tool was intended to be applied widespread. The VMU ordinance was conceived by Council Member Brewster McCracken.

    The determining factor for VMU was the location of properties primarily along major, transportation corridors. VMU is a fine concept which would help eliminate urban sprawl and make neighborhoods more “user friendly” with amenities such as restaurants and shops within walking distance of a neighborhood. VMU combines two uses on a property- retail or office usually on the ground floor and a residential component on the other floors. There are other benefits for VMU such as a percentage of affordable housing units, a reduction in parking requirements, setbacks, FAR and site area requirements. In NUNA, Guadalupe Street was the only major transportation corridor (determined by bus routes).

    The NUNA Planning Team, which is separate from the officially recognized planning team for our area, CANPAC, carefully reviewed the maps and properties foisted on us by the City for VMU consideration. Then, the CANPAC Planning Team held many subcommittee meetings and submitted a completed application for the whole planning area to the City by the mandatory, designated deadline in June 2007.

    Fortunately, NUNA has an NCCD (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District) which is a zoning ordinance that has more flexible tools for redevelopment and is more compatible to this older (unofficially historic) area of town. The other benefit of the NCCD, in the particular case concerning VMU, is that the zoning tools in an NCCD (which are more detailed than an regular neighborhood plan) trump any VMU. NUNA’s NCCD will protect the careful planning we did during the neighborhood planning process in 2004. Nonetheless, we were required by the City to submit a VMU application.

    The question arose within our planning area (CANPAC) and also with Hyde Park, our adjoining neighbor, which also has an NCCD, how does one determine fairly what might constitute VMU? The NUNA Planning Team along with the Heritage Neighborhood, our neighbor across Guadalupe, figured out that no property which abuts a residential use (single family or multifamily) would be considered from VMU. Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU. We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.

    NUNA already had on the ground ( already built) some VMU projects. For example, the “controversial” Villas of Guadalupe have a commercial component- Blockbuster Video on the ground floor, and then have a residential component on the other floors. The Venue at 2815 Guadalupe has a similar makeup with commercial uses on the bottom floor and residential suites/condos above. The best part about the Venue is the underground parking arrangement which includes a parking spot per bed- more parking than the City requirement!

    NUNA was requested by the City to file an application to opt in or out properties primarily along Guadalupe Street for VMU status which could also grant additional dimensional standards, reduction in parking requirements, and additional ground floor uses in office districts. NUNA opted in properties from 27th to the north side of 30th Street along the east side of Guadalupe since these properties for the most part were built as “VMU” – a commercial use on the ground floor and a residential component on the upper floors, but we did not opt for the additional bonuses such as reduction in parking requirements, etc. for any properties. Our application will be considered in a public hearing in front of the Planning Commission February 12 along with the other neighborhoods in CANPAC (Eastwoods, Hancock, Heritage, NUNA, Shoal Crest, Caswell Heights, and UAP-University Area Partners). There will be no staff recommendation for this application.

    In accordance with Hyde Park, another NCCD, we decided that we would prefer to consider individual, commercial project proposals on a case by case basis. In short, NUNA has given nothing away to the City in our application for VMU; we would like first to evaluate each project to see if it is compliant and compatible with our NCCD regulations.

    Here’s the response I sent to the neighborhood list; which is currently stuck in moderation:

    I see in the most recent newsletter a fair amount of sour grapes about VMU which may lead people to become misinformed. For instance:

    “Also, NUNA decided that none of the bonuses such as a reduction in parking requirements, etc. would be granted to any property which we would designate for VMU.”

    The entire point of VMU is to put density where the highest frequency transit service already exists, so that it might attract residents without cars; households with fewer cars than typical; shoppers who take the bus; etc.

    “We were also advised by ANC and the City that we must opt in some properties in our application, otherwise we would be punished and forced to have properties considered for VMU. With that kind of threat looming over our planning team’s shoulder, we very carefully included some properties for VMU status in our application.”

    The purpose of “opt-out” and “opt-in” is being misrepresented here as well. The operating assumption was that because you folks got McMansion, which will result in less density on the interior (fewer housing units, since it so severely penalizes duplexes and garage apartments), that you would support more density on the transit corridors. This wasn’t you being FORCED to accept this density – it was part of the bargain you accepted in return for lowering density on the interior, and now you (and Hyde Park) are trying to back out of your end of the deal.

    There is no transit corridor in the city more heavily used than Guadalupe on the edge of our neighborhood. There is no place in the city better suited for VMU than this one. It’s irresponsible to continue to pretend that the city’s asking for something unreasonable here, since you got what you wanted on McMansion.

    And, by the way, there was a guy here on this list telling you that the VMU application you were submitting was a big mistake quite some time ago. Ahem.

    – MD

    And my follow-up:

    Argh. As is often the case, I see when reading my own post that I left out something important; I said that the point of opt-in and opt-out was either missed or misrepresented, but I never said what the point was supposed to be.
    Opt-out was supposed to be for extraordinary circumstances that the neighborhood was aware of that the city might not be – not generalized “opt out everywhere because we think we’ve already done enough”. For one instance, a difficult alley access (like behind Chango’s) might be something that would justify an opt-out.
    If you opt out more than a few properties, you’re doing it wrong.
    Opt-in was supposed to be for additional properties outside the main corridor – NOT for “here’s the only places we’ll let you do VMU”. IE, my old neighborhood of OWANA might decide to opt-in for VMU on West Lynn at 12th, even though it’s not a major transit corridor (the bus only runs once an hour there).
    If you think “opt-in” is for the few places you pick to allow VMU on the major transit corridor, you’re doing it wrong.
    Regards,
    MD

    Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, stomach and they’re NOT empty, sildenafil Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.
    The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route – but if you have to pick just one spot, order pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of “the buses are always empty”. Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).
    And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system – which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.
    Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don’t ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority – but there’s 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

    Categories
    Austin Economics Funding of Transportation PS: I am not a crackpot Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Transit in Austin Transportation

    It IS time to raise fares, BUT

    If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

    The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
    Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

    Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom so it’s reposted here for your pleasure. The 2nd Hawaii report coming as soon as work calms down a bit.

    Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks. Failing to provide that “last mile” transport can doom an entire regional rail system. If far-flung suburbanites hate the bus, rx and their offices are too far to walk from the last rail or rapid-bus stop, then they’ll just keep driving, however long their commutes.

    The part which was left out, in what’s becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also NOT accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we’re talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against 50-dollar parking.
    Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttlebus – and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn’t any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.
    It’s time to remind people yet again: we did NOT decide to build what worked in Dallas, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake, Houston, and Minneapolis (light rail, or, what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we’re building instead was what failed in South Florida – a transit alternative which is utterly non-competitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost, while derailing transit momentum for decades.
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate I’ve never put it all in one place before. But I’m also short on time, so I’ll reuse most of a post I made today to the excellent SkyScraperPage forums and just expand a bit.
    The immediate relevance is a somewhat petulant response from Michael King to my letter to the editor in the Chronicle next week. I suppose this means I’ll be published, at least. The money quote:

    we don’t find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green), nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on “it’s pointless and it won’t work.”

    So, here it is: why it’s important to keep bringing up that this thing won’t work and WHY it won’t work, and what WOULD have worked instead:
    South Florida built almost exactly what we’re going to build: a commuter rail line on existing tracks which is too far away from destinations people actually want to go to – so they have to transfer to shuttle buses for the final leg of their journey to work in the morning (and back from work in the evening). It has proved a miserable failure at attracting so-called “choice commuters”, i.e., those who own a car but are considering leaving it at home today to take the train to work.
    Here’s how the experience has gone in the area:

    1. Start with a largely transit-friendly population (retirees from New York, for instance)
    2. In the mid-to-late 1980s, commuter rail gets built (requiring shuttle transfers).
    3. Everybody who says anything says “this is going to work; rail ALWAYS works!”
    4. Nobody but the transit-dependent rides it. (“we tried it and it didn’t work”).
    5. Ten years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here”.
    6. In the meantime, a huge amount of money is spent double-tracking the corridor and increasing service; but still, essentially nobody who can choose to drive will ride the thing, because the three-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus) makes it so uncompetitive. (Remember that, like our rail line, it doesn’t run through any dense residential areas where people might be tempted to walk to the station – all passengers arrive either by car or by bus).
    7. Fifteen years later, when people still don’t ride, somebody reads about TOD and thinks “maybe that will help”. Millions are spent trying to encourage developers to build residential density around the train stations to no avail (a bit unlike Austin in that here, all we need to do is allow more density and it will crop up by itself due to pent-up demand for living in that part of town). Nothing comes of this – because people don’t want to pay extra to live next to a train station where they can hop a train to… a shuttle-bus.
    8. Twenty years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here” is still the primary response – but finally some people are starting to say “well, we built the wrong thing last time”.

    If there had been more people pointing out before, during, and after the system opened that a rail line which didn’t go where the people wanted to go would be a failure, it might not have taken twenty years just to restart the rail conversation there.
    I don’t want it to take twenty years to restart the conversation here in Austin.
    Don’t believe it will happen? Remember: the pro-commuter-rail forces, before the election, were saying let’s ride and then decide. People in South Florida rode. They decided. It didn’t work. It has taken twenty years to even start seriously talking about building rail in the right places (along the FEC corridor, or light-rail in Fort Lauderdale). We can’t afford twenty years here.

    There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
    THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
    I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
    Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

    Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

    Focus on this sentence:

    We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

    What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
    We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

    From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

    Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
    But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
    Sincerely,
    Jerry Reid
    Manager, etc.
    Vino Vino
    p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

    Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

    Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


    Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

    The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

    The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

    Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

    Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

    Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

    The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

    Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

    We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
    The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

    The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

    Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

    Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

    I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

    Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

    Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

    Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

    I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
    Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
    1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
    Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
    2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
    Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
    3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
    (meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
    4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
    Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
    5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
    Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
    6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
    Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
    7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
    Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
    8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
    Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
    Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
    PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

    (TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
    Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
    Original post follows:
    Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
    Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

    Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

    There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
    1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
    2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
    3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

    Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

    Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

    Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
    Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
    4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
    5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

    Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
    So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

    I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
    The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
    Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
    The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

    Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
    Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
    We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
    Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
    Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
    Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
    By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
    FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
    After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
    So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
    But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

    People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
    And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

    I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

    The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
    (“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

    Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
    Some shorthand below explained up here:
    “Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
    “Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
    “Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

    Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
    Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow
    Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow

    Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
    So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
    The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

    If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
    City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
    Pros:

    1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
    2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

    Cons:

    1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
    2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
    3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

    LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
    Pros:

    1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
    2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
    3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

    Cons:

    1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

    Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
    Pros from buses:

    1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
    2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

    Pros from LRT:

    1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
    2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
    3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

    Cons from buses:

    1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
    2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
    3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

    Cons from LRT:

    1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

    The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
    But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
    The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
    No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
    Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

    (Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
    (DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
    future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
    gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
    mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
    the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

    (Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

    Quick hit:
    Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
    The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
    Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

    Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

    Miles driven Value
    20,000 6,540
    90,000 5,640
    180,000 4,825

    (KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
    A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
    What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

    Trip Car Bus
    Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
    Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
    Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

    Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
    How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

    Quick hit, treatment found from Jeff’s excellent “City Transit Advocates” aggregator:
    This recently released national study confirms that even in states with more progressive transportation policies than we have in Texas, nurse motorists do not pay the full cost of providing them with roads and ancillary services. Not even close. (I’ve seen the New Jersey study before and have used it many times; but nobody bothered to go to that level of detail for the nation as a whole).
    And in Texas, story it’s a lot worse – we don’t allow state gas taxes to be spent on major roadways outside the state highway system (which screws cities like Austin in favor of suburbs like Round Rock); and we even require ‘donations’ from city and county general funds to get state and federal ‘free’ways built. If the subsidy recovery would be 20-70 cents/gallon nationally, it’d easily be over a buck here.

    I hope the game ends up like this:

    (image from Autumn Thunder, generic ironically, a Michigan blog, created in their AppyState aftermath).
    If it doesn’t, expect me to be even more bilious for the next year. Oh, yes, it’s possible.

    Dear Friends at Capital Metro:
    Hey, click the last few rides, taking my 3-year-old to the UT lab school and back, have been swell. Good work. So I saw your fare increase went over like a lead balloon. Well, I just filled out your survey. Here’s my additional comments:

    1. This fare increase is long overdue, especially for the door-to-door special transit stuff. Yes, I so went there. It costs like 60 cents to provide a ride which actually costs the taxpayers something like 20 or 30 bucks. But even the normal fares are too low (and, no, almost nobody rides the bus to save money on an individual trip – because the economics of that don’t make sense, even when the bus ride is free).
    2. It’s typical stupid PR by Capital Metro to be pushing this fare increase at precisely the time when it’s most easy for the bus riders to complain about subsidizing suburban commuter rail passengers. Of course, I don’t think there will be many of them, but it’s still an incredibly dumb bit of timing.
    3. No, eliminating free transfers and Ozone Action Day free rides doesn’t count as raising fares. Cut it out. Presumably, you had to take a round-trip, so even with that free transfer slip, you used to pay a buck, and you’re paying a buck now; it’s just costing CM a bit less in driver time.

    M1EK’s recommendations:

    1. The aforementioned STS hike (yes, disabled people should get more of a break than regular bus riders. If we expect a 25% farebox recovery on able-bodied people, then let’s shoot for 10% for the disabled. Something has got to be done here, though – serving the disabled is not Capital Metro’s only mission).
    2. STOP THE FREE RIDER PROBLEM. Even today, with nothing but express buses to serve them, many residents of Pflugerville and Cedar Park, who don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes, get to ride the bus for the same price as the Austin and Leander residents who DO pay those taxes. My solution? Walk-up fares go up dramatically (to about 80% of estimated full cost – remainder covered by Federal subsidy). Residents of the service area can buy discounted single or multiple rides by showing proof of residency in the service area. You guys actually encouraged this by moving the old Pflugerville express bus stop to just inside the CM service area right next to where it used to be – CUT THIS SHIT OUT. We don’t owe Pflugerville anything but contempt for refusing to fund transportation solutions. Likewise with this stupid Round Rock idea.
    3. Since you guys think this shitty commuter rail service is going to be a magical gold unicorn which poops out fairy rainbows, PROVE IT by charging double the express bus fare. This will take the wind out of the sails of the bus riders complaining that poor eastsiders will be subsidizing rich suburbanites.

    Here’s what those fares might look like (this is just a wide estimate, though). Let’s assume that we have developed a smart-card for residents of the service area which can be used even for the walk-up case – this is simple and is done in many other jurisdictions to identify people who qualify for reduced fares (such as senior citizens).

    Ride type Current fare Target FRR for residents Resident fare Non-resident fare
    Standard one-way bus fare $0.50 25% $1.00 $3.00
    STS ride $0.60 10% $2.00 $15.00
    Express bus one-way fare $1.00 25% $2.00 $6.00
    Commuter rail one-way fare N/A 40% $4.00 $8.00

    (similar relative discounts as today for students, seniors, and day/monthly passes. Assumption is that average cost of a one-way city bus ride, all costs included, is $4.00; $8.00 for express; $10.00 for commuter rail with shuttle bus; $20.00 for STS).
    The conclusion is that if we’re going to raise our farebox recovery ratio but simultaneously not drive away choice commuters (who are the voters we need to keep on board), we need to do something to capture the free-rider revenue, or lower the free-rider cost. Systems like New York’s can handle this by heavily discounting monthly passes and having relatively steep one-way fares; we’re not to that point yet here.
    I’ll expect my consultants’ fee any day now.
    Your pal,
    M1EK

    Categories
    Austin Driving in Austin Funding of Transportation I Told You So Republicans Hate Public Transportation Republicans Hate The Environment Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Texas Republicans Hate Cities Transportation

    Austin drivers don’t come close to paying their own way

    If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

    The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
    Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

    Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom so it’s reposted here for your pleasure. The 2nd Hawaii report coming as soon as work calms down a bit.

    Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks. Failing to provide that “last mile” transport can doom an entire regional rail system. If far-flung suburbanites hate the bus, rx and their offices are too far to walk from the last rail or rapid-bus stop, then they’ll just keep driving, however long their commutes.

    The part which was left out, in what’s becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also NOT accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we’re talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against 50-dollar parking.
    Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttlebus – and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn’t any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.
    It’s time to remind people yet again: we did NOT decide to build what worked in Dallas, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake, Houston, and Minneapolis (light rail, or, what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we’re building instead was what failed in South Florida – a transit alternative which is utterly non-competitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost, while derailing transit momentum for decades.
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate I’ve never put it all in one place before. But I’m also short on time, so I’ll reuse most of a post I made today to the excellent SkyScraperPage forums and just expand a bit.
    The immediate relevance is a somewhat petulant response from Michael King to my letter to the editor in the Chronicle next week. I suppose this means I’ll be published, at least. The money quote:

    we don’t find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green), nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on “it’s pointless and it won’t work.”

    So, here it is: why it’s important to keep bringing up that this thing won’t work and WHY it won’t work, and what WOULD have worked instead:
    South Florida built almost exactly what we’re going to build: a commuter rail line on existing tracks which is too far away from destinations people actually want to go to – so they have to transfer to shuttle buses for the final leg of their journey to work in the morning (and back from work in the evening). It has proved a miserable failure at attracting so-called “choice commuters”, i.e., those who own a car but are considering leaving it at home today to take the train to work.
    Here’s how the experience has gone in the area:

    1. Start with a largely transit-friendly population (retirees from New York, for instance)
    2. In the mid-to-late 1980s, commuter rail gets built (requiring shuttle transfers).
    3. Everybody who says anything says “this is going to work; rail ALWAYS works!”
    4. Nobody but the transit-dependent rides it. (“we tried it and it didn’t work”).
    5. Ten years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here”.
    6. In the meantime, a huge amount of money is spent double-tracking the corridor and increasing service; but still, essentially nobody who can choose to drive will ride the thing, because the three-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus) makes it so uncompetitive. (Remember that, like our rail line, it doesn’t run through any dense residential areas where people might be tempted to walk to the station – all passengers arrive either by car or by bus).
    7. Fifteen years later, when people still don’t ride, somebody reads about TOD and thinks “maybe that will help”. Millions are spent trying to encourage developers to build residential density around the train stations to no avail (a bit unlike Austin in that here, all we need to do is allow more density and it will crop up by itself due to pent-up demand for living in that part of town). Nothing comes of this – because people don’t want to pay extra to live next to a train station where they can hop a train to… a shuttle-bus.
    8. Twenty years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here” is still the primary response – but finally some people are starting to say “well, we built the wrong thing last time”.

    If there had been more people pointing out before, during, and after the system opened that a rail line which didn’t go where the people wanted to go would be a failure, it might not have taken twenty years just to restart the rail conversation there.
    I don’t want it to take twenty years to restart the conversation here in Austin.
    Don’t believe it will happen? Remember: the pro-commuter-rail forces, before the election, were saying let’s ride and then decide. People in South Florida rode. They decided. It didn’t work. It has taken twenty years to even start seriously talking about building rail in the right places (along the FEC corridor, or light-rail in Fort Lauderdale). We can’t afford twenty years here.

    There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
    THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
    I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
    Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

    Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

    Focus on this sentence:

    We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

    What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
    We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

    From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

    Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
    But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
    Sincerely,
    Jerry Reid
    Manager, etc.
    Vino Vino
    p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

    Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

    Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


    Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

    The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

    The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

    Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

    Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

    Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

    The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

    Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

    We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
    The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

    The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

    Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

    Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

    I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

    Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

    Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

    Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

    I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
    Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
    1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
    Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
    2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
    Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
    3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
    (meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
    4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
    Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
    5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
    Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
    6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
    Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
    7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
    Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
    8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
    Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
    Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
    PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

    (TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
    Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
    Original post follows:
    Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
    Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

    Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

    There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
    1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
    2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
    3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

    Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

    Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

    Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
    Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
    4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
    5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

    Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
    So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

    I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
    The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
    Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
    The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

    Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
    Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
    We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
    Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
    Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
    Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
    By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
    FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
    After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
    So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
    But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

    People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
    And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

    I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

    The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
    (“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

    Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
    Some shorthand below explained up here:
    “Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
    “Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
    “Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

    Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
    Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow
    Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow

    Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
    So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
    The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

    If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
    City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
    Pros:

    1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
    2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

    Cons:

    1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
    2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
    3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

    LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
    Pros:

    1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
    2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
    3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

    Cons:

    1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

    Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
    Pros from buses:

    1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
    2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

    Pros from LRT:

    1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
    2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
    3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

    Cons from buses:

    1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
    2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
    3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

    Cons from LRT:

    1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

    The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
    But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
    The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
    No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
    Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

    (Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
    (DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
    future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
    gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
    mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
    the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

    (Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

    Quick hit:
    Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
    The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
    Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

    Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

    Miles driven Value
    20,000 6,540
    90,000 5,640
    180,000 4,825

    (KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
    A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
    What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

    Trip Car Bus
    Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
    Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
    Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

    Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
    How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

    Quick hit, treatment found from Jeff’s excellent “City Transit Advocates” aggregator:
    This recently released national study confirms that even in states with more progressive transportation policies than we have in Texas, nurse motorists do not pay the full cost of providing them with roads and ancillary services. Not even close. (I’ve seen the New Jersey study before and have used it many times; but nobody bothered to go to that level of detail for the nation as a whole).
    And in Texas, story it’s a lot worse – we don’t allow state gas taxes to be spent on major roadways outside the state highway system (which screws cities like Austin in favor of suburbs like Round Rock); and we even require ‘donations’ from city and county general funds to get state and federal ‘free’ways built. If the subsidy recovery would be 20-70 cents/gallon nationally, it’d easily be over a buck here.

    Categories
    Economics Funding of Transportation Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl Transit in Austin Transportation Use Cases

    Driving: Fixed versus variable

    If a conservative is a “liberal who has been mugged”, approved there as the hoary old saying goes, here then a modern proponent of socialized medicine could be said to have been a fiscal conservative who has had more than five health care plans in the last four years (yours truly). I used to be 180 degrees opposed on this, but frankly, what we have is so much worse than even the bad socialized systems that it’s nothing more than ideological idiocy not to join the rest of the civilized world. To say nothing of the fact that we could easily match the French system, for instance, if we think the British or Canadian ones suck too much; and we’d spend less money overall, by all rational estimates (we already spend more public money than the average completely-socialized system; but we spend it stupidly and inefficiently on things like emergency care for the uninsured).

    The people opposing such a move continue to spout baloney about waiting times, as if even those of us with insurance don’t wait as much or more in the US (and this matches my experience). For the benefit of equal or worse waiting times, I get to kick in thousands per year, and drown in paperwork (for all the payment plans we’re on to try to make sure we pay out of our HSA rather than out of after-tax money, and of course, to make sure I don’t overdraw the stupid thing). What’s worse is that the modern know-nothings who still push this disaster we live under are lying about the options people really have. You don’t realistically have the option to go to another doctor, even if you’re willing to pay standard (non-discounted) rates. Nor should you accept that as an answer – you’re already paying dearly for health care which these idiots claim is the “best in the world”.
    Enough is enough. I’m turning in my capitalist-medicine decoder-ring. Call me Fidel LaFrenchie if you must. Better an honest socialist, if only for pragmatic reasons, than a lying capitalist.

    Posted to comments and as letter-to-editor in their new interface, cialis but who knows if this new technology will work, condom so it’s reposted here for your pleasure. The 2nd Hawaii report coming as soon as work calms down a bit.

    Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks. Failing to provide that “last mile” transport can doom an entire regional rail system. If far-flung suburbanites hate the bus, rx and their offices are too far to walk from the last rail or rapid-bus stop, then they’ll just keep driving, however long their commutes.

    The part which was left out, in what’s becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also NOT accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we’re talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against 50-dollar parking.
    Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttlebus – and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn’t any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.
    It’s time to remind people yet again: we did NOT decide to build what worked in Dallas, Portland, Denver, Salt Lake, Houston, and Minneapolis (light rail, or, what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we’re building instead was what failed in South Florida – a transit alternative which is utterly non-competitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost, while derailing transit momentum for decades.
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    This subject keeps coming up; and although I’ve explained it in bits and pieces in many crackplogs here, viagra as well as in other forums, prostate I’ve never put it all in one place before. But I’m also short on time, so I’ll reuse most of a post I made today to the excellent SkyScraperPage forums and just expand a bit.
    The immediate relevance is a somewhat petulant response from Michael King to my letter to the editor in the Chronicle next week. I suppose this means I’ll be published, at least. The money quote:

    we don’t find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green), nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on “it’s pointless and it won’t work.”

    So, here it is: why it’s important to keep bringing up that this thing won’t work and WHY it won’t work, and what WOULD have worked instead:
    South Florida built almost exactly what we’re going to build: a commuter rail line on existing tracks which is too far away from destinations people actually want to go to – so they have to transfer to shuttle buses for the final leg of their journey to work in the morning (and back from work in the evening). It has proved a miserable failure at attracting so-called “choice commuters”, i.e., those who own a car but are considering leaving it at home today to take the train to work.
    Here’s how the experience has gone in the area:

    1. Start with a largely transit-friendly population (retirees from New York, for instance)
    2. In the mid-to-late 1980s, commuter rail gets built (requiring shuttle transfers).
    3. Everybody who says anything says “this is going to work; rail ALWAYS works!”
    4. Nobody but the transit-dependent rides it. (“we tried it and it didn’t work”).
    5. Ten years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here”.
    6. In the meantime, a huge amount of money is spent double-tracking the corridor and increasing service; but still, essentially nobody who can choose to drive will ride the thing, because the three-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus) makes it so uncompetitive. (Remember that, like our rail line, it doesn’t run through any dense residential areas where people might be tempted to walk to the station – all passengers arrive either by car or by bus).
    7. Fifteen years later, when people still don’t ride, somebody reads about TOD and thinks “maybe that will help”. Millions are spent trying to encourage developers to build residential density around the train stations to no avail (a bit unlike Austin in that here, all we need to do is allow more density and it will crop up by itself due to pent-up demand for living in that part of town). Nothing comes of this – because people don’t want to pay extra to live next to a train station where they can hop a train to… a shuttle-bus.
    8. Twenty years later, whenever somebody brings up light rail, “we tried rail and it didn’t work here” is still the primary response – but finally some people are starting to say “well, we built the wrong thing last time”.

    If there had been more people pointing out before, during, and after the system opened that a rail line which didn’t go where the people wanted to go would be a failure, it might not have taken twenty years just to restart the rail conversation there.
    I don’t want it to take twenty years to restart the conversation here in Austin.
    Don’t believe it will happen? Remember: the pro-commuter-rail forces, before the election, were saying let’s ride and then decide. People in South Florida rode. They decided. It didn’t work. It has taken twenty years to even start seriously talking about building rail in the right places (along the FEC corridor, or light-rail in Fort Lauderdale). We can’t afford twenty years here.

    There are 119 schools in Division 1-A. ESPN has ranked them (well, oncology they’ve only done the bottom 19 so far). Among the 4 non-conference opponents for my school this year? #117, pill #118, and #119.
    THIS IS NOT HOW YOU WON THE TITLE IN 1982 AND 1986, DAMMIT.
    I didn’t think this could be any worse than last year. I was rong.
    Thanks to RUTS for the find. FUH GUH BUH.

    Absent other options (and local bus is not an option) they will drive. That’s where rail comes in. We can build it, dosage as some have suggested, in places where people don’t want to live right now in hopes that people will want to live there. Or we can build it where people already are, and where more people are coming, to take some of that load. We’ve learned from Main that people will ride rail if it goes where they want to go. We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense. Rail isn’t causing density — the density is coming anyway. Rail, done right, is a way to deal with the traffic that density brings.

    Focus on this sentence:

    We’ve also learned that dense development is most likely to occur in places that are already dense.

    What parts of Austin are already dense? Why, the parts served by 2000’s light rail proposal, and skipped by commuter rail (and streetcar). And, no, sorry, TOD won’t make much of a difference.
    We ignore lessons from other cities at our own peril.

    From the online Chronicle letters; don’t know if they’ll have the guts to publish it given their overwhelming tilt towards Karen McGraw‘s ANC “granola mafia”:

    Just caught your piece [“Naked City, recipe ” News] in the July 27 issue about our [Vino Vino] off-site parking hearing before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, July 24, and the opposition to our proposal by Karen McGraw. It’s good to see the Chronicle taking a peek, if even an ever-so-lightly colored one, at this little turf war going on right here in bucolic Hyde Park (you could have given us a ring, you know). As you correctly point out, parking in Hyde Park and along the run of Guadalupe in question (from 40th to 43rd) is extremely tight. That’s why we, along with our landlord, Thad Avery, have looked into every possibility to lighten our parking load along this slowly revitalizing stretch of Guadalupe. Ms. McGraw has led a “spirited” opposition to our attempts to find a solution. In spite of overwhelming approval by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association back in February and last Tuesday’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission, we still await the green light to do our thing. We’ve been at this process, grinding it out, for two years now, and this is a wee bit frustrating. As to the concern Ms. McGraw expressed for her parking lot, we have no intention of letting any of our customers use her lot. Ain’t gonna happen. No matter what she may say. About half of our customers are Hyde Park residents who have walked from their nearby homes, and this is part of the charm of being here in the first place. However, we are happy that some of the lunch customers of the deli located in Ms. McGraw’s building use our lot to park their cars.
    But that’s a whole other story. In fact, there is so much more to the story. Anyway, thanks for all the coverage of all things Austin.
    Sincerely,
    Jerry Reid
    Manager, etc.
    Vino Vino
    p.s. As for the mass-demolishing-of-homes-on-Avenue A-scenario Ms. McGraw fears, got a clue as to how much those houses go for these days? That would be one friggin’ expensive parking lot! Oh, and the bus? Yep, we rented a bus for our supporters. With more than 30 folks turning up to show their support, it was the least we could do. We had room for Ms. McGraw and her two supporters. They should have come along.

    Update: Here’s the link to the letter in case anybody wants to comment. I highly encourage it.

    Well, pills I’m all the way up to part 2 out of 3 on the May 2007 Hawaii trip, view and I still need to backtrack and talk about Newark in June and State College in July. Argh. Here goes. Go back and read Part One if so inclined.


    Background: O’ahu is the only island with any real transit service (up to the standards of a medium-sized mainland city, ask that is; the Neighbor Islands have some desultory bus service). Inside Honolulu, buses run all the time – you see them more often than in most big mainland cities. The system in Honolulu has for a long time been a vast network somewhat centered on Ala Moana Mall – a huge mall with a couple of large bus areas. Waiting outside in Honolulu is no big deal, so that’s what they do. In Waikiki, where we spent almost all our time, the buses all run down the central two-way road (Kuhio) rather than the one-way couplet of Kalakaua and Ala Wai. The system is called TheBus which I find irritating.

    The population on O’ahu outside Honolulu uses the buses a bit but the primary ridership is in Honolulu (and commuters to same). There’s a huge proportion of the population that is transit-dependent; and I’ll further divide that market segment (for the first time here, although I’ve been thinking about it for a long time) into two subgroups: the voluntarily transit-dependent (could afford to own a car but choose not to because the bus system is good enough) and the involuntarily (don’t own and can’t afford a car). Of course, choice commuters exist here too.

    The transit-dependent are a larger proportion in Honolulu than in most cities on the mainland (save New York) because parking is difficult and expensive, wages aren’t that high, and the weather is very favorable for waiting for a bus or walking to/from the stop. Not too difficult to figure. Buses don’t get much priority boost except on the long Kapolei-to-Honolulu route, in which buses get a bit of a leg up by using the HOV “zipper lane”. In the city, there’s one bus boulevard (Hotel Street) in the small “downtown” Honolulu, but I have no experience there.

    Bus fares are startlingly high. Subsidies are quite low – and you’d figure in an island where they have to simultaneously worry about earthquakes and running out of room, they’d want to subsidize people to leave their cars at home – but the farebox recovery ratio is very high (over 30 percent, which is quite high for a bus-only system). The system is recovering slowly from a strike a few years ago which induced a large number of the voluntarily transit-dependent (mentioned above) to get cars or find other ways to get to work. One-way adult fares are $2.00; anybody between toddler and adult is $1.00 each way. There are no short-term passes (shortest is a 4-day pass which isn’t that good of a deal anyways). Monthly passes seem more moderate compared to mainland prices.

    Tourist usage is moderate – the system is used heavily by hotel workers, but you will see plenty of people who are obviously non-local getting on and off the bus in Waikiki. This crowd is heavily weighted towards the hotels on Kuhio and on the Ala Wai side – the people in the most expensive rooms on the Kalakaua side probably don’t even know the bus exists. But there’s far more young people staying along Kuhio anyways in the moderately priced stuff, and the books they read (like Lonely Planet) highly recommend the bus, and we saw plenty of that sort as well as a few retirees.

    Now for our direct experience, first the two trips to Hanauma Bay:

    The whole family took the #22 bus twice to Hanauma Bay, which is a really delightful place to snorkel, especially when you can get to the outer reef (we couldn’t on either time this trip due to high waves). Calm enough for very poor swimmers to get to see a lot of pretty fish; still interesting enough for the moderately adventurous; and very easy to get in. This is the beach where Elvis lived in “Blue Hawaii”, by the way; and I’ve been here about 15 times going back to my first visit as a middle-schooler.

    Although the drive to Hanauma Bay is fine, and the views are nice, parking is a problem – the lot is fairly small compared to peak demand, and on a previous visit we actually were turned away once (this happens fairly often but we’ve been lucky overall). Parking fees, stupidly enough, are only like a buck. Somebody failed basic economics. So this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try out the bus – especially since the travel guides recommend it, and we were trying to save money by not having a mostly unused rental car all week.

    We left our timeshare and walked out to Kuhio and waited. Actually, I had observed several buses running the route bunched together right before we got down there on one of our two trips (can’t remember which one), which is understandable given traffic conditions on this route. The buses theoretically run every 20 minutes or so, but due to bunching we ended up waiting much longer one of the two times. Boarding the bus was fine but SLOW – they still use an old transfer scheme like Capital Metro did until a year or so ago (slips of paper), and feeding in dollar bills for us (5 bucks; Ethan was free) took quite a while. On the first trip, we were headed out in what was supposed to be early but ended up mid-afternoon (more like 2:30 as it turned out), and on the second trip we headed out right after lunch.
    The route took us past Diamond Head and provided opportunities for a lot of nice views there on a road I actually haven’t driven before. Both times, the bus was very full – at times, every seat was full (perhaps 30 seats) and up to 10 were standing. People constantly got on and off the bus – apparently some folks use this same route to travel to/from Diamond Head to hike, although you have a much longer walk to the ostensible beginning of the hike from the bus stop than from the car parking. Also noticed many middle-school age kids using the bus to get from school to various spots along the Kalaniole – some to go home, others obviously to bodysurf (headed past us to Sandy’s Beach). A handful of tourists like us were obviously headed to Hanauma Bay on both occasions. The bus rejoined my normal driving route near the Kahala Mall and then I got to enjoy the views like I hadn’t since my one bike trip there (before the arthritis many years ago) since usually I’m driving in traffic with enough lights that I can’t look at the ocean as much as I’d like.

    The dropoff/pickup location at Hanauma Bay is awful. It’s a much longer walk to the entrance – and I feel every inch of it on my bad feet while also carrying our heavy snorkel bag.

    Compared to driving: The total trip time was about 50 minutes, compared to maybe 35 in the car (but add in 20-40 minutes for the wait for the bus, and add in 10-15 minutes for what it would have taken me to get the car out of the garage and come back to the timeshare for a more accurate comparison). The cost of the individual trip was competitive – figure $3.25/gallon gas and a 12 mile trip = $1.95 each way, $1 to park for a total of $4.90, compared to $10 for bus fare. But since we were “voluntarily transit-dependent”, we didn’t have to worry about being turned away, and for the whole trip we saved about $250 on rental car costs ($300ish for a weekly rental car + $10/day to park it, compared to two daily rentals we did do at about $60 each). That made going without a rental car a great decision for the week we spent in Waikiki, but as mentioned in part one, I wish I had rented one for the couple of days we spent on the Leeward side (about the same price as using the car service!)

    Return trip: We waited with a large group each time at the inconveniently far out bus stop, where Ethan amused himself by chasing chickens. Don’t know how close to schedule the bus was; we didn’t care much at this point. Ride back was nice – again, standing room only at certain times.

    I also hopped the bus once by myself on a trip back from the rental car dropoff (on the Sunday when we switched from the timeshare to the Hilton) and helped a couple figure out which bus would take them to the airport (they were Australian; most Americans, even those who took the bus while here, would know it’d be better to take a cab to the airport when you have to deal with luggage). Unventful for the most part, and at the Hilton it’s obvious that nobody there takes the bus – the stop is outside the property and a bit of a hike. The Hilton seems like a spot where people who don’t know what they’re doing end up spending $20/day warehousing rental cars, frankly. Like is often the case when I’m returning to my house from downtown, I had a choice of four or five bus routes – whichever one came first, in other words; I think the one I took was the #8.

    Finally, we all took a tour bus to the Polynesian Cultural Center one day, which was a nice trip – but not transit per se. The place was a lot less hokey than I anticipated – I actually recommend giving this a try, although bring a hat – it’s very hot out there.

    Summary recommendations: If you go to Honolulu once, rent a car. You’ll want it to do the North Shore, Pearl Harbor, and a few other things you should do at least once. But if you’ve already been to those places, try getting by without it if you can – you’ll be surprised at how much money you save, not to mention time (parking a car in Honolulu takes quite a bit of time as well as money – and rental car agencies are even slower there than on the mainland). On our trip, we rented a car for 2 out of the 11 days – I just walked to one of the four or five options in Waikiki, got a car, and went back to the timeshare to load up the family (Lanikai Beach, where we got married and where we spent parts of both of those two days, is unfortunately not feasible to reach on the bus – although you can circle the island on one route if you’re sufficiently adventurous, it doesn’t go back down towards Lanikai; the only way to get there is two transfers, the second one of which runs very infrequently).

    Whenever I get to it, look for the final part: Future plans for transit on O’ahu.

    I am stuck on the porch of the condo with a purloined and slow internet connection, about it killing time while waiting for an install to complete for work, illness and for the flooring guys to show up (stuck in traffic in Georgetown). Here’s a short item I meant to link to much earlier:
    Christof Speiler in Houston wrote a good article called 8 habits of highly successful commuter rail lines which was then followed up in an article on a LA portal. I highly recommend reading those links, sickness and then thinking about Austin’s line. Note how LA and Houston went back and forth about the difference between light rail and commuter rail – near the end a couple of folks point out that despite their differences, it is important to compare their ridership and cost because some stupid cities are pushing commuter rail lines in place of light rail alternatives, and that even in Manhattan, where parking costs far more than here, most commuter rail riders are disembarking at stations from which they walk to work, inducing the state to push for another LIRR stop on the east side because transfers are driving away many potential passengers. Now let’s grade Austin:
    1. The ideal commuter rail line improves on current transit options.
    Austin’s commuter rail line fails very badly on this metric. The existing 98x series express buses that run from the same far away park-and-rides will still beat the commuter rail + shuttle commute, even in heavier traffic than we have today, and there’s the long-term prospect of managed lanes on Mopac (if not done with the current stupid design) and on 183, which can bring the bus back ahead even when (not if) traffic gets much worse. And when traffic gets worse close-in, the shuttle buses will suffer (no reserved guideway, essentially forever, for the “connections” to UT and the Capitol and most of downtown).
    2. The ideal commuter rail line makes use of unused rail capacity in a corridor where highway capacity is scarce.
    Austin’s line passes this metric. Not much you can say here – the rail line is unused, and highway capacity is indeed scarce.
    3. The ideal commuter rail line serves more than commuters.
    (meaning, serves reverse commuters, people running midday errands, etc.). Austin’s rail line fails this metric badly. Only one mid-day trip, and no nighttime service at all.
    4. The ideal commuter rail line has a city at each end.
    Austin’s line fails this metric badly. No, the stuff being considered up in Leander isn’t going to make it a “city”; what they’re claiming as TOD is really just slightly more dense suburban sprawl (zoning restrictions slightly loosened, using commuter rail as an excuse). The design is standard suburbia – you will not see people from Austin riding the line up to Leander and then walking to anything worth going to.
    5. The ideal commuter rail line offers good connections to multiple employment centers.
    Fails. Badly. How many more times can we look at South Florida’s example (and other cities’) before we realize that people who aren’t willing to ride very nice buses today (98x express buses) aren’t going to be thrilled about two shuttle bus rides through stop-and-go city traffic every single day?
    6. The ideal commuter rail line serves long trips.
    Passes. Obviously. This line doesn’t serve close-in residents at all – but you can have Wifi for that hour-plus train ride from Leander to the station way out in East Austin. Of course, they have Wifi now on the express bus too.
    7. The ideal commuter rail line connects to local transit.
    Passes, marginally. Circulators will run from stations, but connections will be poor compared to the 2000 light rail line. This is Christof throwing a bone to the transit-dependent – if you’re going to run this thing and make it unattractive to choice commuters, you’d better at least have connections to local buses for the people who couldn’t afford to drive anyways. But that’s just catering to the people who have no choice but to accept multiple-transfer bus service today – you’re not making a dent in the number of people driving.
    8. The ideal commuter rail line has stations you can walk (or bike) to.
    Fails. Miserably. Capital Metro and their toadying sycophants already tried to push the lie that this line serves Central Austin. It doesn’t. Virtually nobody will be able to walk to stations, unlike the 2000 light rail proposal, which served all the same suburban park-and-rides, and additionally had stations within walking distance of dense residential areas and all of the major central employment destinations.
    Looks like our score is a 2.5 out of 8. Christof, is that enough to be highly successful? I doubt it.
    PS: Even though it’s one of the hottest days so far in a cool summer, I’m still comfortable working out here. Amazing how I can feel way too hot when the A/C in my garage office has it at 78, but out here with 94 and a breeze and something to look at, I feel fine. Now if I had only brought a cushion for my butt…

    (TOD = “transit-oriented development“, this site which some people think can provide additional passengers for our commuter rail line).
    Update: The author of the ABJ piece assures me in comments that this wasn’t “the” TOD project (not within the city limits) and claims that it had more to do with the housing market in general. This will teach me to link to articles for which I can’t read the full text. However, medications commenters and other media have indicated that this was being characterized as “a TOD” (I actually finally posted this after receiving 3 different tips from readers), and my language, while imprecise, was referring to “the first failure among the group of self-proclaimed TODs”, not “the first project declared to be a TOD has now failed”. Keep this one as a “maybe”. Certainly many people defending the commuter rail line have promised that it will provide stimulus for denser mixed-use development in that part of town – so the “weakening housing market” is in and of itself no defense here.
    Original post follows:
    Repeating the experience in South Florida with another stupid commuter rail line that requires shuttle-bus transfers, the first proposed TOD (really, not, just a slightly more dense suburban tract housing project) has collapsed in Leander. Expect more of these, although I expect Crestview Station and the Chestnut project will go ahead, since sufficient demand with or without rail already exists in those areas to fill the units allowed by the slight loosening of the way-too-strict zoning there. As Christof said, the most attractive place to add more density is where density already exists – don’t forget, too, that true TOD requires high-quality transit, not just anything slapped on a rail that runs to a station out in the middle of nowhere.
    Does TOD ever work in cities without Manhattan-like density? YES!. It works great on light rail lines which have demonstrated good ridership among choice commuters. That requires rail lines which deliver most people directly to their destination (within a moderate walking distance). Like what Dallas did; what Portland did; what Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Denver, and even Houston did. Like what we almost did in 2000; and could have fought for in 2004 instead of rolling over for Mike Krusee. But it’s never, ever, happened on a commuter rail line with performance as poor as ours. Not even once.

    Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear’s article this morning

    There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:
    1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, mind it was frequently used.
    2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading – when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, urticaria about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.
    3. Urban residents, this even those who don’t drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road ‘donations’ he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I’d be happy to help.
    Regards,
    Mike Dahmus
    Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

    I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ’s morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we’re in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

    Possibly in response to publicity about last week’s cancellation of a project which tried to catch some of its buzz, viagra approved the Leander TOD guys have gone on the offensive. But one particular comment is very telling, recipe and shows why, drugs well, it’s not really a TOD:

    Angela Hood, co-founder of Artefacts, says the development will also incorporate some mode of transportation that will get residents and pedestrians to and from the commuter rail line at the heart of the TOD.

    Here’s a hint: If it were truly a transit-oriented development, you wouldn’t be even thinking about how the passengers would be getting to/from the rail line – they’d ALL be walking, because it would be so dang close. A project which requires shuttle-buses to distribute passengers from a rail hub is NOT A TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT. It’s just a higher-than-standard-suburban-density mixed-use project.
    Read up more on transit-oriented development here, from VTPI, including these requirements (I’ve picked several critical ones which the Leander project will not satisfy):

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Parking costs are “unbundled,” and full market rates are charged for all parking spaces. The exception may be validated parking for shoppers.
    4. Transit service is fast, frequent, reliable, and comfortable, with a headway of 15 minutes or less.
    5. Automobile level-of-service standards are met through congestion pricing measures, or disregarded entirely.

    Remember: this train service is going to run once every 30 minutes during rush hour, and when it gets to the Austin end, passengers must transfer to a shuttle-bus to get to their final destination, be it UT, the Capitol, or even most of downtown. It will not run at all the rest of the day, except for one mid-day trip. No night-time service; no mid-afternoon service. Thus, you can’t apply the more generous “high-quality frequently running rail service” metrics of the 10-minute walk.
    So, if you want to call this Leander thing “new urbanist”, go ahead. It looks pretty nice on that metric. If you want to call it “mixed-use”, go ahead. I’m right there with you. But stop the charade that this is a transit-oriented development, because it’s not remotely so.

    I’ll write up our Bad Capital Metro Flugtag Experience tomorrow I think. In the meantime, here Newsweek joins the parade of Prius FUDders by allowing Honda to reiterate the common assertion that the Prius kicks all other hybrid vehicles’ asses because it “looks different”. Of course, opisthorchiasis that’s a load of crap; the most iconic hybrid vehicle out there was the Honda Insight. Problem was that the Insight was a nearly useless car – underpowered, unhealthy uncomfortable, 2 seats, no cargo space. And for all that, you got about 5 mpg more than the Prius, back when the Insight was still being sold.
    The reason the Prius sells so much better than the Civic Hybrid is because it’s a much better car. The Civic is smaller (different market segment, even), gets a bit less mileage, and has far less cargo space. (The Civic’s back seat doesn’t even fold down – because Honda stuck the battery there). In other words, Toyota learned from Honda, and developed a better hybrid system that was able to provide small-car Civic-like mileage for a car with more usable space than the Accord. They just out-engineered the Honda boys.
    Yes, a few people at the margins bought it because it was more obvious. But the car is now outselling the majority of “regular” cars in this country – and it’s not doing so because of the hybrid halo. It’s doing so because it’s a medium-sized car which gets fuel-sipper mileage and can carry a friggin’ rain barrel with the hatch closed.
    The Prius is our only car. The Civic Hybrid could never have managed to be. That’s basically all you need to know.

    Last Saturday, order I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there – also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.
    Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule – which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, price it runs every 38 minutes. IE, cough probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.
    We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by – a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn’t go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we’d give it that ten minutes and then give up.
    Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I’m paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he’s already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more – by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn’t take any more people.
    Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students – I had to give a lot of directions – who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.
    Downtown was a madhouse – as expected – very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk – but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd’s), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd’s and left their car right in front of us – forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.
    By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.
    FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I’m glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).
    After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn’t scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn’t end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).
    So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There’s nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn’t have worked at all – because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.
    But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I’ll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don’t tell me that’s too difficult – they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

    People who are stuck on a bus that’s stuck in traffic aren’t going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there’s no room to ride? They’re damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time – making it trivially easy for the “bus riders union” to claim that they’re subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?
    And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

    I’ve been meaning to post on this for quite some time (an Outlook reminder pops up every day) but was putting it off because I had intended on gathering together quotes from before the election, sales after, viagra buy and whatnot; showing the slip from 2007 to 2008 to 2009 to 2010. But the hell with it; Capital Metro’s even showing it in powerpoint presentations now, more about so here you go:

    The only service being provided to central Austin in any way, shape, or form; the execrable Rapid Bus, is now scheduled for 2010. This service, as useless as it will be, was the only bone thrown to Central Austin for their votes (and, don’t forget, the vast majority of Capital Metro’s tax revenue). The sterling work of the boot-licking sycophants in the ostensibly pro-transit community has done absolutely nothing but further enable Capital Metro to screw the people who want, and pay for, transit. Good show, folks.
    (“study” downtown circulator, by the way, means “try to convince the city and UT to pay for it”; and so far, the city has admirably been asking questions like “why is a stuck-in-traffic streetcar better than a stuck-in-traffic bus?”).

    Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, rx they will come; here’s a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for “why can’t we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?”. The second case is for “won’t streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?”.
    Some shorthand below explained up here:
    “Stuck in traffic”: Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.
    “Detourable”: If there’s a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.
    “Fast/slow”: Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

    Mode Stuck in traffic? Detourable? Fast/slow?
    Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow
    Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
    Shuttlebus Yes Yes Slow
    Streetcar Yes No Slow

    Notice anything? Whether you’re using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there’s some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn’t bringing anything more to the table than bus does – arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the “Detourable” column. Yes, I’ve had times on the bus when I’ve benefitted from this capability. They won’t detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.
    So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you’re trying to stimulate development somewhere – but downtown Austin doesn’t need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists – making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).
    The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists – which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro’s bills.

    If you’re seeing a lot of people with whom I normally agree pushing streetcars very hard, myocarditis and you might be wondering why I keep naysaying them, medical here’s a handy guide. Consider this list of pros and cons for two transit modes I talk about a lot: the city bus and light rail. And remember the target is daily commuters, not tourists – otherwise, we’re not really doing anything to improve mobility.
    City buses are, well, normal buses. They’re what we run today.
    Pros:

    1. Low capital costs (very little facility investment; moderate vehicle investment)
    2. Slightly flexible (vastly oversold by Skaggs’ band of Neanderthals; but at least it can change lanes to get around an accident and can be detoured around a festival).

    Cons:

    1. Slow – even on the open road (no traffic), will always be a bit slower than an econobox. And in stop/go traffic, poor acceleration is magnified.
    2. Very unreliable – traffic is a big problem; and unlike in your car, you can’t go over one block if you feel like it (this is where the libertarian anti-transit trolls go so far off reality by claiming “flexibility”).
    3. High operating costs – relatively few passengers per driver, even on articulated buses.

    LRT, or “light rail” runs in the street where it needs to, but in a reserved guideway (has its own lane and some control over traffic signals) and runs in off-street right-of-way elsewhere. We almost passed this in 2000 and could easily have done so in 2004. In Austin, it would have run right down the middle of two-way streets such as Guadalupe and Congress – in its own lane, so in most cases, traffic congestion could not slow it down.
    Pros:

    1. Reasonably fast – in similar conditions can accelerate or decelerate almost as well as a private automobile.
    2. Very Reliable – more so, even, than the private automobile. Blows buses out of the water. This is a very key metric – people will accept a slghtly slower AVERAGE commute if the worst-case is basically the same as the average.
    3. Low operating costs – very many passengers per driver, and electric drive is much cheaper than diesel.

    Cons:

    1. High capital costs – requires infrastructure such as rails, electric wires, and expensive vehicles.

    Now, for comparison, look at how streetcar stacks up, including all pros and cons from light rail and bus above. Note for the record that our streetcar proposal does not include any segments of reserved guideway, nor can it ever be converted into reserved guideway.
    Pros from buses:

    1. Low capital costs – Nope. Has almost all of the capital costs of light rail. Slightly cheaper vehicles, but you still need electrical wires and rails.
    2. Slightly flexible – Nope. Unlike that city bus, it can’t even change lanes to get around a double-parked, stalled, or wrecked car. (Irrelevant for LRT since it has its own lane).

    Pros from LRT:

    1. Fast – accelerates pretty well.
    2. Reliable – Nope. Just as unreliable as the city bus, if not worse (due to the flexibility liability).
    3. Low operating costs – Partial. Not much better than bus in passengers-per-driver; but electric drive still provides some cost savings.

    Cons from buses:

    1. Slow – Win. Yes, streetcar can accelerate a bit better than buses, thanks, DSK. I submit this makes very little difference given:
    2. Very unreliable – Loss. As indicated above, streetcar is likely to be even less reliable than city bus on the same route.
    3. High operating costs – Partial. As indicated in pros section, somewhere in the middle.

    Cons from LRT:

    1. High capital costs – Yup, as indicated above, streetcar’s capital costs are practically as high as LRT.

    The summary here: streetcars have almost none of the positives that light rail has but city buses lack; and it shares almost all of the liabilities of BOTH modes. It’s almost expensive to build as true light rail; but it’s also more expensive to run, and very unreliable, like city buses. Even in Portland (Home Of The Streetcar!), people who look at it dispassionately come to the conclusion that it’s usually juat a glamorous (for now) immobile bus.
    But M1EK, you ask, what about all the people who won’t ride the bus today? Won’t they flock to streetcars because of their image? Capital Metro’s consultant certainly thought so.
    The mode preference problem for buses versus rail is vastly misunderstood. It’s not that people always prefer rail over bus even if they’re exactly the same in all other respects, it’s that rail service in the past was always at least a little bit better than bus service on several of the critical metrics listed above. Even traditional streetcars held up as examples have some pros which the “streetcar vulgaris” we’re thinking about building here won’t – dedicated right-of-way in segments, for instance, or other enhancements. Streetcar seems to attract more people than buses because the rail service is usually far superior to the bus service it is being compared to. That’s not going to be the case here in Austin – all we’re doing is nailing the shitty buses onto rails, with all their old liabilities and some exciting new liabilities and, thus, streetcar isn’t going to buy us anything worth paying for.
    No, there’s no magical streetcar fairy dust. Sorry, guys; even people who try it out of curiousity will figure out pretty quickly it’s actually slower than the Dillo used to be (combining speed and reliability).
    Also, while I’m at it: another nugget from Appendix A, just confirming something I’ve been saying for a really long time, but which still hasn’t made any traction with the naive fools who think we can expand commuter rail into the center city:

    (Note: Capital Metro is currently implementing Capital MetroRail using Diesel Multiple Unit
    (DMU) type vehicles on its existing railroad right-of-way from Austin to Leander. Although in the
    future transit system it may be desirable to extend this technology into the circulator corridor to
    gain certain operational efficiencies, this technology is not envisioned as a viable alternative to the bus and streetcar technologies identified for further study. This is primarily because of the
    mobility limitations of the DMU technology. DMU technology is therefore not included as one of
    the potential technologies carried forward into the analysis of alternatives.)

    (Yes, this ends up rehashing about 75% of the last post; but this one, I hope, does so more coherently).

    Quick hit:
    Most coverage of Round Rock’s attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here’s the kicker that nobody’s talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, noun because Round Rock doesn’t pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, check and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.
    The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don’t expect CM to ever do this – they’d get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.
    Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

    Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, more about and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it’s actually far more a factor of age – miles a distant second). For instance, information pills this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment’s on AC’s post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, more about automatic, all other values default. All values as “private party” and “excellent condition”.

    Miles driven Value
    20,000 6,540
    90,000 5,640
    180,000 4,825

    (KBB said 86,000 would be “typical”, but actually seems a bit low to me).
    A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason – would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn’t driven very much? Of course not.
    What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you’re one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily – just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in “extra costs”). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

    Trip Car Bus
    Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz) $1.31 $1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
    Home to downtown (free parking) $0.46 $1.00
    Home to downtown ($8 parking) $8.46 $1.00

    Now, if AC’s parking cost was unbundled – charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I’m just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it’d be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.
    How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn’t be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I’m using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes – not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It’d shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it’s never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we’re going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses – well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.