Half A Bridge

A reasonable person replied to a posting I made about Capital Metro’s commuter rail plan (in particular to its requirement that shuttle buses be used for the last leg of their journey):

“A very good point Mike, and important one.
Isn’t this something that will be phased in as ridership grows, if possible.”

This pretty much sums up the reason Capital Metro has succeeded so far in maintaining what urban support they currently have. Most people aren’t looking at the rail system as a potential passenger – they’re buying into the “build anything and people will use it” theory pushed so ineffectively in voluntary air-quality agreements that always end up with the same set of city officials behind them. If you believe some non-trivial set of people will ride it just because it’s there, then this attitude makes sense.

However, there’s another way to look at the line (and its extension to Congress Avenue). Let’s suppose that we decide to build a new bridge halfway across Town Lake. Why only halfway? Well, the first half of the bridge is going to be pretty cheap because a bunch of old but serviceable pylons (supports) happen to already be there – all we need to do is lay decking on top of them. (The pylons for the second half of the bridge do not currently exist). Certain unidentified crackpot transportation writers claim that this isn’t enough; and that nobody will use the bridge (except for a couple of people who like to dive into the water for the end of their commute).

Would you say that building such a bridge is a good idea, just because it’s so cheap? Would you say that we should build the first half, and then see how many people use it, before we bother to build the second half? “Let’s ride and then decide” indeed.



6 thoughts on “Half A Bridge

  1. Hey, that’d be perfect for Flugtag!
    Maybe that’s the stealth agenda behind the commuter-rail line. Not that people will use it, you know, for commuting, but rather as a platform for whimsical kinetic-art projects.
    Yeah, that’s the ticket.

  2. Unfortunately your analogy isn’t quite valid. A half-bridge is utterly useless and cannot possibly attract a user base.

  3. Peter,
    Read the rest of my articles and you might change your mind. It’s pretty clear to me that this commuter rail line might as well be a new paint job on the express buses for all the good it’s going to do attracting new transit riders. Hence, I’d argue, it is utterly useless.
    – MD

  4. Good points. But then how do you get Austin to spring for the whole deal, seeing as they rejected it once. Maybe this is the way you do it politically? ie you build half the bridge and then you go to the public and say well now there’s not much you can do with half a bridge, why not go and finish the other half? (Reminds me of a Laurel and Hardy episode (Way out West?) but I won’t go there)

  5. srinivas:
    First of all, I don’t think it would be hard to get Austin to vote for a capable starter line. Remember, it lost by about 200 votes in an election forced too-early by Mike Krusee. Fixing any one of ten minor nits would have brought it over the top, in my opinion.
    Second, the prospect of fixing it later is not realistic since the leadership of Capital Metro and others such as the current and previous mayors have been throwing around the slogan “Let’s ride and then decide” about future expansions. If nobody rides it because it requires a transfer to crappy shuttle buses to get anywhere, we’ll obviously never make it to the next step.

  6. Ah, so you’re suggesting we put Light Rail to the vote again? As far as commuter rail is concerned I don’t think you can avoid transfers to crappy shuttles. Its just the nature of the beast (commuter rail running along railtrack). Perhaps if Austin really does adopt HOV lanes along somewhere like Lamar then shuttle service can be improved. Or run them frequently.

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