My cow orker threatened to do nasty things, partially to himself, if I didn’t crackplog before he left on his trip. I’m in the middle of yet another attempt to stop Lyndon Henry from rewriting history on the lightrail_now yahoo group; and went looking for Tri-Rail news and found this letter which explains why Tri-Rail is still, for sale 20 years later, a complete and utter failure at attracting ‘choice commuters’ in South Florida.
Read carefully. Does any of this sound familiar?
Take the Delray Beach Tri-Rail station, for instance. It’s located way west of downtown, languishing between Linton Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue. Now, where can one walk from that location? The whole point of public transit is to create an alternative to driving. Yet, the thriving popular downtown area of Delray Beach is far removed from the poorly planned station location. Thus, you still have a downtown clogged with cars, because the Tri-Rail station is beyond walking distance.
Remember this discussion?
Then, there’s this gem:
I have ridden on Metrorail, on the other hand, and it is a joy compared to the mess that Tri-Rail is. Metrorail actually goes places, near neighborhoods, and other places people actually go, and it doesn’t share its tracks with 8,000 mile-long freight trains. That’s why it works.
Tri-Rail is viewed as a failure in South Florida because nearly nobody who has the choice between driving and taking it will leave their car at home. We’re headed down the same path here in Austin, because people like Lyndon Henry didn’t stand up and fight for Austin’s interests against those of Mike Krusee.
Those who continue to nicely but naively ask us to ‘work together to fix it’ don’t get it: there ISN’T ANY WAY TO FIX THIS DEBACLE. More stations won’t help. Nice streetcar circulators won’t help. You can’t recover from deciding to run your trains on existing tracks instead of where the people are who might like to ride and where the places are they definitely want to go.
We’re turning dirt on a rail line which will ‘prove’ to most on-the-fence Austinites that ‘passenger rail doesn’t work’ – the same thing that happened in South Florida with Tri-Rail. Only now, 20 years after the thing was planned, have many people started to change their tune from “rail doesn’t work” to “maybe we screwed up in how we built it”. Can Austin wait that long?
Continuing to misrepresent this thing as urban ‘light’ rail only makes it worse – at some point a decade from now, we’re going to have to pick up the pieces from this disaster and try to sell rail again to the public. And part of that is clearly identifying what went wrong, and who led us down the wrong path. I ain’t gonna stop anytime soon.
Page 3-6 (78 in the PDF):
“The Convention Center Station is proposed within the current ROW of 4th Street downtown. The site, near IH 35 and the Austin Convention Center, is surrounded by high-rise office buildings and related downtown land uses.”
The Convention Center Station is not surrounded by office buildings of any kind. The closest large office building is many blocks away; the only large buildings within a short walk are a couple of hotels and the Convention Center itself.
Page 3-20 (92 in PDF):
“Hyde Park. The Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning Area plan expresses a desire for a successful rail transit system, and an intent to participate in planning for future station designs. The plan emphasizes making the necessary improvements to achieve this goal. The primary focus of these improvements is the enhancement of existing pedestrian connections to businesses and residential uses in close proximity to the potential rail station sites. It should be noted that this older area of Austin was planned and built around a streetcar transit system that operated early in the twentieth century (COA, 2005a).
The Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan (Hancock). The Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan includes the area of the Hancock neighborhood. Although there are no specific rail or station plans, this document mentions the possibility of rail in their future, and has had workshops to promote the idea of rail as a future transportation investment.”
Both of those clearly refer to the LIGHT RAIL 2000 alignment down Guadalupe. NEITHER neighborhood will be able to make any practical use of this commuter rail line, even if a station is built at the closest possible point along this line.
Seattle’s light rail line just got a rating of “high” from the Feds meaning it’s very likely they’ll get the maximum possible financial contribution. Why? From the posting:
King County Executive Ron Sims said a big factor in the rating was the travel time savings. A bus from University Hospital near Husky Stadium to downtown takes 25 minutes during the afternoon rush hour compared with a projected 9 minutes for the light rail line. A bus from University Hospital to Capitol Hill takes 22 minutes compared with 3 minutes for light rail. And a bus from downtown to Capitol Hill takes 14 minutes compared with 6 minutes on light rail.
Compare and contrast to the route a rider of Capital Metro’s commuter rail route would take to get from one of the northwestern park-and-rides to their office at UT or the Capitol. When you add in the shuttle bus trip through traffic (from the commuter rail station to the campus or capitol), it is doubtful that any time will be saved compared to the existing 183-corridor express buses (which also operate in traffic, but at least don’t go out of their way on a dogleg through East Austin, and don’t require a transfer to a second, much slower, vehicle).
Of course, Austin’s 2000 light rail route would have gone from those park-and-rides straight to UT and the Capitol and then down Congress Avenue. But, sure, this will work just as well, and the Feds will be just as happy. Right.
I posted this to the hydeparkaustin yahoo group and didn’t want it to go to waste.
The moderator asked me to provide additional background on this.
I write on this stuff voluminously at:
You may want to read that category archive bottom-up (chronological
During 2004, I was the standard-bearer for the "pro-rail-transit but
anti-commuter-rail" side. I was strongly in support of light rail in
2000; remained in support of such a system in 2004; and still support
it today; but this commuter rail system shares none of the aspects of
that plan which made it likely to attract new riders to public
transportation - it neither goes by neighborhoods which want to use
transit (such as mine, NUNA, and yours, Hyde Park), nor goes TO
destinations to which people want to walk, i.e. most of downtown, the
University of Texas, and the Capitol.
Capital Metro claims to be ready to solve this problem through "high
frequency circulators" (Future Connections study previously linked) -
i.e. a vehicle you would board at the commuter rail stop way out in
east Austin which would take you to UT, for instance. The problem is
that this has been tried elsewhere and never works - all you have to
do is go through the 'use case' of the prospective rider, i.e., a guy
who lives in Leander and works at UT.
Car trip: Get in car and drive there; park; walk to work.
Light rail trip: Drive to park-and-ride; take train to UT; walk to
work (probably shorter walk than car trip).
Commuter rail trip: Drive to park-and-ride; take train to east Austin;
transfer to shuttle bus; ride through backed-up traffic to UT; walk to
And of course the Hyde Park resident 'use case' is even worse, since
taking commuter rail is not even remotely feasible - you (and I) would
be stuck taking the "Rapid Bus" which is an even worse scenario than
My fear was that a badly designed starter system (which this is) will
show Austinites that rail doesn't work - meaning that we won't get any
more rail, not even GOOD rail. And this system is VERY badly designed
- it almost exactly matches Tri-Rail in South Florida (where I come
from) in its reliance on shuttle buses to get passengers anywhere
worth going, rather than doing what all successful light rail starter
lines have done, which is go straight to a few major employment
centers without requiring transfers.
Anyways, I spent the year pushing this position all over town, in
events at UT and at the ANC, and was constantly attacked by my
pro-transit friends for risking getting 'no rail at all'. The
pro-transit establishment claimed that we could pass commuter rail and
then quickly get light rail put back in the plan, i.e., running down
lamar and guadalupe, past the Triangle and Hyde Park, to UT and the
Capitol and then downtown.
I never bought the snow-job; but unfortunately, many people in the
center-city DID buy it. It ended up getting me kicked off the UTC by
councilmember Slusher, as a matter of fact, but I thought that,
regardless of the consequences to me, SOMEBODY needed to raise the
position that bad rail could, in fact, be worse than delayed rail.
And now here we are. Guadalupe will not see light rail from Future
Connections. (I don't think it will for decades, since this commuter
rail plan is so bad that it will destroy the public's desire to try
any new rail lines for years and years to come once they see that
nobody wants to ride it since it's so uncompetitive even compared to
existing express bus routes). In fact, no rail of any kind will be
headed up our way, since even if you take the most optimistic reading
possible of the Future Connections study, they would be building
streetcar (still stuck in traffic, but hey, it's on rails in the
pavement) out to the Mueller project; not up this way.
If anybody has any questions, you can ask me in the forum, or via
private email, and I'd be happy to fill in any more details.
Update: Unpaid blog QA intern “U. Nidentified Cow-orker” alerted me that the “voluminously” link didn’t work. Thanks, U.N.!
Just sent this:
Many well-intentioned people, including most of the staff of the Chronicle, advised Central Austinites to hold their nose and vote "yes" on the All Systems Go commuter rail plan, despite the fact that it goes nowhere near existing and proposed residential density, and nowhere near minor employment centers like the University of Texas or the Capitol Complex (to say nothing of most of downtown). In fact, the pro-rail-transit but anti-stupid-rail position fell all the way down to me, whose sole qualification was serving on the UTC for a few years. I was attacked quite viciously for daring to suggest that perhaps the right response was to vote No, as in "No, this isn't the right rail plan; come back with something like the 2000 plan, scaled back to get us over the top".
Well, now, the other shoe has dropped. The "Future Connections Study", on which those credulous folks based their hopes for adding back rail for central Austin, has released their draft technology review, which has now ruled out any mode requiring a reserved guideway. Meaning: no light rail; no bus rapid transit. You get either a shuttle bus or a streetcar; but either way you're going to be stuck in the same traffic you would be if you just drove.
More on my blog at: (blog link)
The majority of the pro-transit establishment owes Austin an immediate apology for being part of this snowjob.
The “Library” has a bunch of documents up from the most recent set of meetings for the Future Connections study, i.e., the “let’s pretend like we considered rail to get central Austin off our back for screwing them with a commuter rail plan that doesn’t go anywhere near them or minor destinations like UT and the Capitol Complex” exercise.
I’m only partway through and don’t have time for full analysis now, but I will note that it is disappointing (but not surprising) that NONE of the objectives for this service include the simple one:
make it MORE ATTRACTIVE to ride transit than it is today, i.e., close at least some of the gap between the private automobile and public transportation in one or more of the following: (reliability, speed, comfort).
These guys still don’t get it – you can’t just rest your hopes on build it and they’ll come; you also have to make sure that what you build is GOOD. And shuttle buses operating in mixed traffic aren’t “good” unless you’re somebody who can’t afford their own car. Capital Metro already owns all of THAT market.
Update: One thing I notice is that in the Draft Technologies Report, they have already eliminated light rail and any other technology which uses a reserved guideway. I have to admit I’m not surprised at this decision (which I believe was made before this study even started), but AM surprised at the speed at which they’ve come to admit it semi-publically.
Responding to a comment on this old entry:
Jonathan, that’s not accurate.
- There ARE more lines in the “long-range plan”, but NONE of them go anywhere near UT or the capitol or Mueller. There’s one that might go down Mopac to Seaholm, here it will have the same exact problem that the starter line does; namely; that it’s too far away from any destinations for people to walk; they’ll have to take shuttle buses. And the starter line will be such a visible example of rail’s supposed “failure” that no follow-on lines will be built for a very very very VERY long time. The whole reason I opposed the ’04 plan was this danger – if you build a crappy enough starter line, it will become, as one of my UTC colleagues put it, a “finisher line”.
- TOD can’t work if the line doesn’t have good ridership without the TOD. Otherwise, real estate investors are going to be leery about spending more money for TOD than they would for traditional development.
- These projections DO take into account all prospective density in east Austin, which has generally OPPOSED such projects. In fact, the TOD ordinance had to be watered down to nearly zero because of that part of town’s virulent opposition to what they see as gentrification.
- The only other area in this country which chose to run a rail line through a low-density area instead of running one from where the people are to where they want to go is: South Florida, whose 20-year experiment with Tri-Rail has plumbed new depths of failure. Shuttle buses are so unattractive to the “choice commuter” that even most of the transit-dependent in South Florida don’t use Tri-Rail; they just stay on the normal bus; and NOBODY rides it who could have chosen to drive.
Compare/contrast to light rail, which is what Dallas, Portland, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City did; and what we almost did in 2000. We could easily have passed a scaled down version of the ’00 plan in ’04, but Mike Krusee kneecapped Capital Metro into this abomination instead.
Relevant entries in my blog which you might want to look at:
A photographic exercise by M1EK. All pictures obtained from the 9/24/05 Future Connections steering committee presentation.
This is a bit misleading since it makes it look like Hyde Park and the neighborhoods around Airport Blvd are equally suitable for rail transit – the problem is that you can’t walk to stations along Airport from any residential developments of consequence; the area is fairly pedestrian-hostile.
Note that all of the existing and future high-density residential and employment centers are going to be served by “high-frequency circulators”, i.e., shuttle buses stuck in traffic. While the incredibly important Airport Boulevard corridor gets rail. Here’s one example of a circulator movement they envision; this one is planted right on Speedway near my house. Note: there’s already high-frequency bus service to campus and downtown on this street, so it’s doubtful they’ll be doing anything here other than publicity:
Now, for comparison’s sake, I took the two 2017 maps, and using my awesome drawing skills, drew the 2000 light rail proposal, in blue. The jog from the Guadalupe corridor over to Congress Avenue might have happened as far north as 11th; I chose 9th as a compromise. Some versions even had it running around the Capitol on both sides — but this is a simpler drawing that still hits all the same major spots. A short distance north of this map, the 2000 light rail line would have converged with the red “All Systems Go” line and continued northwest on existing rail right-of-way towards Howard Lane, so this picture captures most of the “difference” between the proposals.
Gosh, which one would have a better chance at delivering ridership? I really can’t tell the difference. I guess Lyndon IS right – this commuter rail plan IS just as good as light rail!
Lyndon Henry just called me “anti-rail”. I’m so mad I could chew nails.
His “bend over for Mike Krusee side” has destroyed any chance at urban rail here in Austin for a generation, since the starter line implemented by Capital Metro will not be able to garner significant ridership due to its reliance on shuttle buses to get anywhere you might want to go.
After this failure, predicted by South Florida’s experience with a commuter rail plan which is almost identical to Capital Metro’s, Austin voters will not be willing to vote up any more rail for decades.
If anybody’s “anti-rail”, it’s him and his ilk; since their collaboration with Mike Krusee will prevent urban Austin from seeing rail until my children are middle-aged.
Update: my cow orker pointed out that lightrail_now doesn’t have public archives. Here’s the offending opening paragraph of Lyndon’s comment:
Let me just point out that, if Mike Dahmus’s anti-rail side had won last
November’s vote – i.e., the rail plan had failed – the Road Warriors would
be celebrating the “final” demise of rail transit in Austin and picking the
bones of Capital Metro for more funding for roads – highways, tollways,
etc. – in this area.
he then goes on to tell people how wonderful the commuter rail plan is, how it might be upgraded to electrified LRT (continuing his misleading crap about how sticking an electrical wire on it makes it “light rail”), and mentions the people trying to get streetcars running through downtown and an unnamed bunch of “rail advocates” trying to get light rail to run on the Rapid Bus corridor, failing to say anything about the fact that this commuter rail plan effectively precludes running light rail down that stretch of Lamar/Guadalupe.
The folks who basically wanted us to suck it up and enjoy what crumbs we got from the All Systems Go plan are still at it, even today. On the Austin Streetcars group (for people who are trying desperately to salvage some kind of rail, for central Austin, which is otherwise going to only be served by “high frequency circulators” in the form of shuttle buses and, of course, Not So Rapid Bus), Lyndon Henry just called the ASG starter line an “urban light railway”, to which I just had to respond with this old gem which now that I look back, is probably the best thing I wrote about this whole commuter rail debacle. Unfortunately, it was nine months after the election.
Update: Lyndon responded with:
They’ve ordered non-FRA-compliant light DEMUs for this line. It qualifies
as a “light railway” by all standards I know of within the transit
industry. However, since it’s non-electrified, it is NOT
LRT. Operationally, it will be somewhat similar to the Camden-Trenton
RiverLine light railway and the Sprinter light railway currently under
construction in Oceanside (north of San Diego – which they’re calling
to which I answered:
1. What are the headways it will run at during peak times when it opens?
2. How will the passengers get to their final destination?
The answers to those two questions are:
1. 30 minutes, at best
2. Shuttle buses
Neither of those answers is compatible with the concept of “light rail”. As you know. It’s a pretty shoddy effort to claim that it’s light rail because it’s using a slightly less heavy, but still non-electrified, locomotive.
This project is commuter rail, and not a very good one at that (most commuter rail lines at least penetrate a major downtown area; this one does only by the most generous definition of the term, and doesn’t come remotely close to any of the 3 or 4 other activity centers of the region).
Your insistence on applying the adjective “light” to it as frequently as you can suggests to me that you might be uncomfortable with your role in selling Mike Krusee’s Austin-screwing transit-killer to the citizens and are trying to convince yourself that this pile of garbage really is a stack of roses.
Again, I refer you to this:
and then I inserted the original blast that this isn’t light rail by any reasonable definition of the term.
Lyndon is one of the “good guys” which is why I hate so much that he’s helped, as I mentioned, sell Austin down the river for Mike Krusee (whose constituents by and large aren’t even Capital Metro taxpayers).