Clarifying future of rail

Comments Off on Clarifying future of rail

A lot of the people who, like me, are disgusted with the pitiful attempt at a rail network being foisted on ys by Capital Metro have decided, tactically, that their best course of action is to hold their nose, vote yes, and then work to extend and improve the plan after the starter line is built. This basically sums up the positions of the two guys who presented on the panel with me last Wednesday at the Austin Neighborhoods’ Council meeting.

They believe that if this package is supported, that we can then go back and get real urban rail service down the real urban rail corridor – that being Lamar/Guadalupe. And of course we’ll get rail to Mueller (which is being touted as a transit-oriented development). And probably to Seaholm and the Capitol while we’re at it.

I’m going to demolish that idea right now, as if you couldn’t guess.

1. Capital Metro is no longer even pretending that light-rail will ever happen on that corridor. Early versions of the All Systems Go press included comments that Rapid Bus could be a “placeholder for future rail service”. This is no longer being said, not even off the record. I’ve mentioned before that there are practical obstacles to implementing light-rail in this corridor if commuter rail is built, even up the Lamar corridor to northeast Austin, and that’s nowhere near as good a line as the initial 2000 path would have been (and of course THAT path is absolutely precluded by commuter rail).

2. Building the entire ASG network does nothing for urban Austin that the starter line doesn’t already do (that being nearly nothing). The additional commuter line down Mopac won’t have any stations near any walkable residential areas – in fact, it’s even worse than the starter line in that regard.

3. Other proposed improvements such as downtown streetcars will only make a minor dent in the transfer problem. Keep in mind that streetcars don’t get their own lane – so if a lane is full of cars, the streetcar is going to be going just as slowly as your shuttle bus. Some naive pro-transit people think they can solve the “three attractors” problem with streetcar as well as ’00 light rail would have – but you’re still stuck with a 3 (or even 4, if you need to go to the Capitol or UT) seat ride; and it’s still stuck in traffic.

4. None of the proposed expansions or improvements bring rail to any of the high-density residential areas in town. Not to Mueller. Not to West Campus. Not to South Congress. Not to Hyde Park.

Folks, I can’t make this any clearer: if you vote for this plan, you are voting AGAINST rail for Hyde Park, for North University, for West Campus, for South Congress. You are voting AGAINST rail to the University of Texas, to the State Capitol, and to the center of downtown.

What you’re voting FOR is rail from Leander to the Convention Center. If that seems like a good idea to you in isolation, go for it. But don’t hang your hat on winks and nods; the fact is that even if Capital Metro WANTED to help you, they’re not going to be able to do it.