“Highland” sector favored by Project Connect — but where’s the travel demand?19 November 2013
As this blog recently reported, on Nov. 15th, Project Connect — newly empowered by Austin’s Mayor Lee Leffingwell to make the de facto final decision on urban rail — selected the “ERC” sector (with the somewhat daunting East Riverside corridor) in South Austin and the “Highland” sector (suspected to be a proxy for the western “Mueller” sector) in central Austin.
While the significant and growing Highland campus of Austin Community College (ACC) has been profusely brandished as a major activity center justifying “Highland” (in effect, a “gerrymandered” sector fabricated from pieces of the actual Highland and several other core-city neighborhoods), there seems very little likelihood that a rail route in the “Highland” sector itself would actually reach Highland ACC anytime soon or possibly even … ever.
It’s likely that urban rail is intended only to reach Hancock Center (per the previous Mueller plan), then to take the same previously planned northeasterly route (through the Hancock property, then crossing Red Line tracks, then under I-35 via Airport, and into Mueller via Aldrich). Very daunting right-of-way constraints almost certainly will remain an obstacle to extending urban rail to Highland ACC.
Besides the physical constraint of virtually no clear street right-of-way for an urban rail alignment to the core area, Project Connect’s chosen “Highland” sector presents another serious problem: extremely weak travel demand!
This is revealed in the data visualization of travel demand forecast for 2035 by sector and displayed in Project Connect’s Map Book (v.5), p. 43, based on projections from CAMPO’s own travel demand model. Two JPG snips of this visualization (showing travel demand activity as vectors and intra-zonal travel as bubbles) are shown below, one for the study area as a whole, and the other a closer focus on the central core city.
In comparison with “Highland”, the infographics shown above seem to indicate significantly more projected travel demand not just in the rather large “Lamar” sector but all along the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor specifically. There’s also significant travel to what seems to represent a centroid just northwest of the boundaries of the “Lamar” sector, which it’s arguable is logically in the ridership catchment area for an urban rail line on Guadalupe-Lamar.
A closeup of this visualization for a portion of the “Highland” sector (including the Highland ACC area) is shown at the top of this posting. In contrast to the seemingly intense travel demand involving the Guadalupe-Lamar, the “Highland” sector seems to have zero travel demand centroids or origin-destination points indicated, and there’s a total absence of “data bubbles” represent intra-zonal trips.
This seemingly total lack of projected transit demand in for the “Highland” sector is actually rather puzzling. It’s reasonable to assume some degree of future travel demand between this area bordering the west side of I-35 and the core area. In any case, the data visualization suggests a projection by the CAMPO model that that this area is astoundingly weak in this respect compared to Guadalupe-Lamar — certainly contradicting the claims and conclusions of Project Connect’s top decisionmakers, including Kyle Keahey, who have emphasized the greater travel demand potential of “Highland” (and “ERC”) over the “Lamar” sector (and, implicitly, the actual Guadalupe-Lamar corridor). Basically, the evidence for this — in this presentation of CAMPO 2035 projection results — is simply not there.
In fact, on the basis of this infographic, both the “Highland” and “MLK” sectors appear to have the weakest travel demand projected in the CAMPO travel demand model — possibly suggesting a deficiency in the model. In any case, since Project Connect based its assessment significantly on this data, the results presented, and the contrary evidence of very strong travel demand in the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor, contradicting Project Connect’s own stated conclusions, should at the very least raise questions about the competency and integrity of the study process.