Archive for March, 2013


Demographic maps show Lamar-Guadalupe trumps Mueller route for Urban Rail

30 March 2013

[Map: Jeff Wood. Click to enlarge.]

In early 2012, Jeff Wood, a top planner and analyst for Reconnecting America in Oakland, California (and former Austinite and UT student), prepared and posted on his own website several maps utilizing recent demographic data to compare the City of Austin’s Urban Rail plan with an alternative Urban Rail line in the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor.

As the map above shows, the results are stunning. While the map shows the COA’s entire Urban Rail plan in orange (which includes a route out the Riverside corridor to the ABIA Airport), it’s clear that the proposed starter line from downtown to Mueller serves significantly lower density on the whole than the Lamar-Guadalupe line (shown in gold/yellow), which consistently serves much higher population densities (including the West Campus neighborhood, with the 4th-highest residential density in Texas).

We’ll have more detailed analysis of Jeff’s demographic results in subsequent postings.


Limitations of RapidBus (and “BRT”)

30 March 2013

[Huge bus jam on Brisbane, Australia’s busway illustrates one of the major problems of trying to deploy relatively lower-capacity buses in a rapid transit role. Photo, 2008: James Saunders.]

In a previous posting, we mentioned a commentary prepared by Lyndon Henry for a presentation to the Transit Working Group on 27 January 2012, Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.

This presentation and commentary addressed the issue of RapidBus (aka “Bus Rapid Transit”) as the City of Austin’s longer-term alternative to rail transit in the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor. The commentary argued that RapidBus (which, it emphasized, is not “rapid transit”) should be considered not a replacement, but a precursor to electric light rail transit (LRT) in the corridor, and indicated a number of considerations for ensuring this:

♦ RapidBus (“MetroRapid”) in Lamar-Guadalupe should be precursor to light rail

Design for conversion to rail — make sure location and design of facilities are compatible
Keep investment minimal — heavy bus facility investment is obstacle to rail conversion
Modular, movable stations — bus and rail station placement and platforms may differ
Plan relocation to serve Mueller and San Jacinto corridor — RapidBus can then become precursor to rail in these alignments

The commentary then focused on the drawbacks of RapidBus (or “BRT”) in comparison with LRT, emphasizing that even these high-quality bus service fail to provide the service and performance capabilities of rail:

♦ Limitations of RapidBus vs. electric light rail

Not “BRT” — RapidBus is not “bus rapid transit” … but even “BRT” would have problems
Lower ridership — nowhere nearly as attractive to public, resulting in much lower ridership
Minimal to no TOD — bus facilities have very little attraction to developers
Less capacity — even articulated buses have much less capacity and can’t be entrained
Lower speed — lower acceleration means slower schedules, more buses needed
Higher unit operating cost — more buses, slower schedules, drivers for every bus = high cost
Street crowding — many more buses (than railcars) mean more vehicles crowding streets
Slower passenger boarding — constricted doors and aisles mean slower boarding/deboarding
Less space — buses provide less space per passenger, thus more crowded conditions
Rougher, less reliable ride — poor ride quality, plus less perceived reliability and safety for public
Problems for ADA passengers — buses (not railcars) have boarding problems and need tiedowns
Petroleum fuel — less efficient and versatile, and more costly than electric propulsion (for rail)
Higher fuel costs — diesel fuel costs will skyrocket as supply dwindles from Peak Oil syndrome
Emissions — unlike electric rail, diesel or gas buses directly emit fumes with GHGs

The original handout, in Word .DOC format, can be accessed via this link: Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.


Why abandon Austin’s major corridor and congestion problem?

30 March 2013

[Map: L. Henry. Click to enlarge.]

Several previous entries in this blog have already underscored the contradiction between the City of Austin’s emphasis on the severely congested condition of the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor and city planners’ astounding conclusion that building an Urban Rail line in an entirely different (and virtually non-existent) travel corridor would be some kind of remedy for this.

This glaring disparity is captured in a graphic contained in a handout prepared by Lyndon Henry for another presentation to the Transit Working Group on 27 January 2012, Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.

In this map snippet, adapted from COA’s own route map, the high-traffic, congested Lamar-Guadalupe corridor is shown by a dashed red line and the annotation “Major Corridor and Congestion Are Here”, while the proposed routes to Mueller are shown (gold/ochre color, both solid and patterned — the patterned line eventually became the preferred route to Mueller).

The issue of RapidBus (aka “Bus Rapid Transit”) as the COA’s longer-term alternative to rail in the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor is addressed further in the original presentation handout, and will be discussed in a subsequent posting.

The original handout, in Word .DOC format, can be accessed via this link: Urban Light Rail vs. Limitations of RapidBus.


Give priority to “Missing Link”

29 March 2013

[Map: L. Henry. Click to enlarge.]

Since the winter of 2011, several local advocates of rail public transportation have been laying out a case for relocating the proposed Urban Rail line to serve the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor and UT West Campus rather than the official City of Austin (COA) plan for a line through the relatively sedate East Campus and eastward to the Mueller site.

In a presentation to the Transit Working Group on 2 December 2011, including a handout, A Sensible, Workable Urban Rail Plan, Lyndon Henry emphasized the West Campus-Guadalupe-Lamar route from the central business district (CBD) to Crestview as a “Missing Link” in the official plans. This included the map excerpt shown above. The proposed Urban Rail “Missing Link” (using electric LRT) is shown in green. The red-and-white dashed line (with icons showing stations) indicates Capital Metro’s existing MetroRail DMU-operated Red Line. The Red Line, meandering through East Austin, bypasses the heart of the Core Area and the crucial Lamar-Guadalupe corridor — thus the need to install the “Missing Link” in that alignment.

The main argument for including the West Campus-Guadalupe-Lamar corridor in an Urban Rail starter system is given in the following section:

• Give priority to “Missing Link” — Lamar/Guadalupe from Crestview to downtown

Lamar-Guadalupe is the primary local traffic corridor in central-city Austin, and any rail transit investment must serve this crucial corridor. Initially, this means a connection between the Crestview Red Line MetroRail station and the West Campus – in effect, a return to the route alignment under official study until mid-2003.

In addition to serving this very heavy corridor, implementing the “Missing Link” add direct rail service between the northwest suburbs and Hyde Park, the Triangle, the UT campus, the dense West Campus area, the Capitol Complex, and downtown; provide UT with the critical connection it needs between the main central campus and the Pickle campus; eliminate the need for costly dedicated Connector bus service for MetroRail; and enable more cost-effective use of the current MetroRail DMU rolling stock (by shifting them to outlying service corridors).

In addition, installing electric LRT service in this major corridor would increase total rail system ridership dramatically. Compare the original 2000 LRT plan with the COA’s deficient Urban Rail plan: In the original plan, a single LRT line, 14.6 miles, from McNeil to downtown (using the Red Line, then Lamar and Guadalupe) was projected to carry 32,100 daily trips in its first year! COA’s entire, 5-route system, 16.5 miles, is projected to carry just 27,600 trips in 2030. Why spend the better part of $2 billion (about 80% more) to get less?

The presentation also argued for integrating both Urban Rail and MetroRail on the basis of electric LRT:

• Integrate Urban Rail and MetroRail systems

Splitting rail development between “Urban Rail” (City of Austin, COA) and MetroRail (Capital Metro, CMTA) is inefficient, wasteful, and reckless with taxpayer dollars. It’s essential for both COA and CMTA to move toward a technological integration of the two rail systems, on the basis of electric light rail transit (LRT, basically the Urban Rail technology). This would enable economies of scale, particularly in rolling stock procurement, and a number of other advantages, such as the better performance, environmental benefits, and cost advantages of electric propulsion. The current MetroRail DMUs could be deployed for service to more outlying corridors where extension of electrification would be less cost-effective.

At the time, for a more immediate, affordable starter line, advocates were proposing a relatively short east-west line connecting the existing MetroRail station at the convention Center with the Seaholm development project and Amtrak station — referred to as a “No Nonsense” starter line. This alignment is still considered a viable additional route, but emphasis has shifted more to the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor and the proposed 14.7-mile Alternative Plan (including conversion of MetroRail to LRT between Crestview and downtown).

Lyndon Henry’s original handout , in Word .DOC file format, can be accessed at this link: A Sensible, Workable Urban Rail Plan


City of Austin’s Urban Rail (and “BRT”) plan

29 March 2013

[Map: Dave Dobbs. Click to enlarge.]

The map shown above has been rendered by Dave Dobbs from official maps, provided by the City of Austin (COA) and Project Connect, to show (as far as we can infer) what COA planners are proposing for their basic Urban Rail (using LRT) and “bus rapid transit” (BRT) starter system.

The 5.5-mile Urban Rail proposed route (downtown, through the UT East Campus, and Hancock Center into Mueller) is shown as a gold-ochre line with a pattern representing “tracks” in the center of it. The green line represents the proposed “BRT” route intended to serve the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor. The Red Line represents the currently operating MetroRail Red Line route.

This route plan can be compared with the 14.7-mile Alternative Urban Rail plan prepared by Dave Dobbs and Lyndon Henry — see map in right column. The details of the Alternative Plan are discussed in the previous article: An alternative Urban Rail plan.


An alternative Urban Rail plan

29 March 2013

[Map: L. Henry. Click to enlarge.]

Shown above is a map of the proposed Alternative Plan for a Phase 1 Urban Rail project, as developed by Dave Dobbs and Lyndon Henry. Note that this plan for 14.7 miles electric light rail transit (LRT) — serving both the Lamar-Guadalupe corridor and the eastside Red Line corridor — is projected to have a capital investment cost almost exactly the same as the City of Austin (COA) plan for a 5.5-mile line running from downtown, through the UT East Campus, Red River, and Hancock Center, to the Mueller site. Furthermore, the Alternative Plan also includes a branch serving Mueller.

This map was prepared in the autumn/winter of 2012 and, together with additional information, initially presented as a handout (Alternative Urban Rail Transit Plan for Austin) to a peer review group organized by the American Public Transportation Association in December. Here’s the narrative that accompanied the map:


Peer Review needed wider scope — Should have been commissioned to evaluate route/design alternatives.

City of Austin (COA) plan deficiencies — Would “work” as transit, but fails to serve the right corridor, fails to meet the highest priority, fails to provide the best value for money, and voter support is questionable. This reflects a difference of professional opinion, but we’ve been saying this since 2006!

Summary of Alternative Urban Rail Plan

Overview — 14.7-mile electric LRT system connecting Crestview station with Convention Center via both an east and a west route.

East route — Convert current DMU-operated MetroRail to electric LRT south of Crestview. There would be a cross-platform connection between LRT and MetroRail DMUs at Crestview; DMU service would proceed north and LRT service would proceed south via either route. The eastern branch follows the current MetroRail route southward to the Convention Center.

Mueller spur — From the east line, a spur branch turns east at Manor Rd., proceeds from Manor to Airport Blvd., follows Airport north to Aldrich St., then turns east into the Mueller site to serve the northwestern area of the site and access a storage-maintenance facility.

West route — From Crestview station, proceeds southward down Lamar Blvd. and Guadalupe St., serving this busy commercial-residential corridor, major neighborhoods such as Hancock and Hyde Park, the Triangle, and the West Campus of the UT area (4th-densest residential area in Texas). Route continues southward to 4th St., turning east to connect with the east branch of the system at the Convention Center station, thus forming a loop.

Fleet & operations — System would have a fleet of 34 LRT cars, basically identical to the type of vehicle that COA’s plan envisions, operating in 1 to 2-car trains with minimum headways of 7.5 minutes. The system would be double-tracked except for the single-track east line section between Manor and Crestview. Schedule speed would average 13 mph.

Ridership — Ridership projected to be 40,000 per day by 2025 (using ridership projections from 2000 LRT proposal, plus estimates for ridership on the east line and the Mueller spur). This is several times higher than COA’s estimate of rail ridership of 9,000-12,000 per day for their 5.5-mile line.

Capital investment cost — Projected at $700 million, basically equivalent to the COA’s projected cost of $550 million for rail plus estimate of $150 million to convert the Lamar-Guadalupe MetroRapid bus route to partial “BRT” (out of total Project Connect budget of $500 million).

Alternative Urban Rail Plan vs. COA Plan

Meets highest-priority traffic need — Alternative plan addresses most critical mobility problems of central city; COA’s plan does not even serve an existing corridor!

TOD opportunities — Alternative plan serves far more opportunities for TOD (especially along Guadalupe, west downtown and West Campus, N. Lamar); COA plan taps relatively less TOD potential (Mueller site now developing without TOD). [TOD doesn’t necessarily mean mega-densities, but rather design that orients to public transport; furthermore, supporters of the Alternative Plan insist that any proposed TOD protect neighborhood livability and historic features, be consistent with neighborhood plans, and have the support of neighborhood consensus.]

Much higher ridership — Alternative plan offers potential of 2-3 times higher ridership than COA plan.

Better value for money — Alternative plan provides nearly 3 times as much rail route mileage as COA’s Urban Rail-plus-“BRT” plan, at approximately the same cost.

To access a copy of the original handout in Word .DOC format, click here:
Alternative Urban Rail Transit Plan for Austin


Welcome to Austin Rail Now

28 March 2013

Simulation of Austin Urban Rail line with electric light rail transit train running on Guadalupe St. downtown.

Welcome to Austin Rail Now — representing the views of Austin-area public transportation advocates and professionals who envision better mobility choices for urban rail and rail passenger service in Central Texas.

Our most immediate and urgent priority is to achieve a restructuring of the current official Urban Rail plan to focus priority on Austin’s Lamar Blvd.-Guadalupe St. corridor for the starter line of an electric light rail transit (LRT) system. While the the City of Austin (COA) currently emphasizes a proposed Urban Rail route from downtown to the Mueller (old airport) development site — basically non-existent as a major travel corridor — Lamar-Guadalupe is the “Missing Link” in their plan. Ironically, COA has also been emphasizing that Lamar-Guadalupe is the primary local traffic corridor in central-city Austin, and even identified this corridor in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) scoping meetings, held throughout Austin in spring 2012, as being at maximum capacity for over the past 2 decades.

Any truly adequate and justifiable rail transit investment must serve this crucial corridor. Austin’s limited resources must be invested to yield the maximum ridership — initially, a rail connection between the Crestview Red Line MetroRail station, the West Campus, and downtown. In addition, we favor a plan that technologically integrates COA’s Urban Rail and Capital Metro’s MetroRail on the basis of electric light rail transit (LRT).