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Memo to CCAG: “Pause” study or include “Lamar” sector

5 December 2013

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By Lyndon Henry

This Email was sent on December 5th to members of the Central Corridor Advisory Group (CCAG). While the memo indicates an assumption that Citizens Communications would be allowed at the end of the CCAG meeting, the posted agenda, in a departure from past practice, now indicates that Citizens Communications will take place in the middle of the meeting, prior to “Discussion & Action”.

To Members of the Central Corridor Advisory Group:

I am writing to urge you either to hold off voting on a recommendation on the Phase 1 urban rail project, or to recommend including the “Lamar” sector (“sub-corridor”) for further evaluation in the next phase of Project Connect’s study.

"Lamar" sector ("sub-corridor") includes a portion of Guadalupe-Lamar corridor. Map: Project Connect.

“Lamar” sector (“sub-corridor”) includes a portion of Guadalupe-Lamar corridor. Map: Project Connect.

As the Project Connect team has started releasing some of their methodology and basic data, an ever-widening array of problems has become evident, and questions from the community continue to multiply.

From the outset, this urban rail study (now a “High-Capacity Transit” study) has been inexplicably rushed, in clear violation of Best Practices within the transit industry and cities across the country. Even Kyle Keahey has repeatedly admitted that, ordinarily, this kind of study would require 12 to 18 months. Yet Project Connect has raced to a decision in less than five months of actual study.

This is not a sound or propitious basis for rallying community and voter support behind such a major public transportation investment. This project should preferably be put on Pause; barring that, the “Lamar” sector should at least be added for further consideration.

As I’ve mentioned, the list of problems and anomalies identified in this study is sizable, and continues to grow. Here are just a few of the most egregious that I’ve identified:

• The basic methodology of focusing on sectors (so-called”sub-corridors”) meant that the study failed to study a single actual potential travel corridor in the study area.

• This methodology also segmented an otherwise viable corridor such as Guadalupe-Lamar into nonsensical pieces, severing the corridor from its most logical destination (West Campus and core area), and thus creating an arbitrary “rump” route (29th St. to south of U.S. 183) that goes from nowhere to nowhere.

• As a measure of “Travel Demand” from each sector to the core, non-work trips such as UT student trips and recreational trips (e.g., to restaurants, bars, etc.) have been EXCLUDED — dismissing not only the enormous importance of non-work trips (which are heavy in the off-peak) for more cost-effective transit service, but especially the huge significance of student and recreational trips in a city with the largest university in the state (and located in its core).

• Rather than developing conservative, reliable, and plausible projections, Project Connect has produced bizarrely exaggerated and highly implausible projections that are heavily skewed toward certain geographical areas such as East Riverside and the so-called “Highland” sector.

• When these same projections are plugged into the Transit Orientation Index (TOI), the results are extremely implausible — e.g., for the “ERC” (East Riverside) sector, Project Connect calculates high total daily transit ridership of 2.9 million, about equal to the total citywide daily ridership of Chicago and Philadelphia combined. (Their “low estimate” for that single sector is higher than the total citywide ridership of entire cities like Denver and Seattle.) This strongly tends to corroborate other evidence that Project Connect’s projections have been seriously exaggerated and are utterly implausible.

• The study has assigned an extremely high “Constrained Right-of-Way” penalty to the “Lamar” sector, but not to the “Highland”, “Mueller”, “ERC” sectors — apparently implying that Project Connect considers there to be no “Constrained Right-of-Way” problems for “Highland”, “Mueller”, and “ERC”. This also is implausible, and this penalty seems to be arbitrarily applied to sectors (“sub-corridors”) that the Project Connect team dislikes (e.g., “Lamar”), but withheld from sectors they seem to prefer (e.g., “ERC”, “Highland”, “Mueller”).

In reality, “Highland”, “Mueller”, and “ERC” not only face serious problems of constrained ROW, but daunting problems of major civil works (e.g., a river bridge, grade-separations with I-35, etc.). In contrast, the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor would encounter no necessity for major civil works.

For Project Connect’s recent “Data Dig” meeting, I submitted a longer and more detailed list of problems and anomalies which is available online here:

Questions for Project Connect

The following article from the Austin Rail Now blog discusses even more problems, and includes links to a number of online posts from several other researchers, analysts, and transit advocates in the community:

TILT! Project Connect’s gerrymandering and data fiddling ignite public skepticism, pushback

The Austin public is certainly not stupid, yet Project Connect’s peculiar methods and rationales have made many in the community feel as if they’re being treated like fools. Contrary to Project Connect’s claims that their public participation process has been “robust” and “open”, it’s a serious departure from past democratic norms.

This is exemplified by the fact that public communications to CCAG were opened only in the very final stages of the study process, and just the last meeting before Project Connect made its decision. And now, since Citizens Communications comes at the conclusion of your Dec. 6th meeting, speakers will not even have a chance to address your meeting until after the recommendation issue has been dealt with.

Further problems with Project Connect’s community involvement are discussed in detail here:

From community participation then … to community exclusion today

Persuading the public to understand the need for urban rail in Austin, and to vote approval of bonds to fund it, will be an enormous challenge. This will be an even more difficult challenge if Project Connect persists in alienating the core neighborhoods in the heart of the central city — and West Campus and student population — by rushing to decisions based on implausible and dubious analyses, and a cavalier attitude toward bona fide community involvement.

Please give your strongest consideration to either pausing this process, or including the “Lamar” sector in Phase 2 of the study process so that it can be more adequately and fairly evaluated.

Lyndon Henry
Technical consultant
Light Rail Now Project
Texas Association for Public Transportation

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3 comments

  1. […] The public who pays your salary deserves better than being purposefully misled. Likewise, when Project Connect published ‘data’ from a ridiculous model that was essentially predicting… alone and then tried to pretend it didn’t matter because it was just sort of a starting […]


  2. Where did they mention 2.9 million ridership per day? That’s just absurd and absolutely impossible on two different levels (people, and equipment to move that many people). Impossible.
    So, do you have a link to show where they said this??

    I can’t imagine that they would say that. It’s like a McDonalds opening up a typical location and staying they can hold 1 million people in their dining area.
    It’s just so absurd that they would say such a thing, I’m curious to see where they said that.


  3. The absurd projection of 2.9 million daily ridership for a SINGLE SECTOR of Austin was contained in Project Connect’s final “evaluation matrix” Excel spreadsheet, which the agency supposedly used for its basic decisionmaking. This is discussed in our article:
    What’s with Project Connect’s “2.9 million daily ridership” projection?
    https://austinrailnow.wordpress.com/2013/12/16/whats-with-project-connects-2-9-million-daily-ridership-projection/

    ARN editor



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