Road and rubber-tire transport plans thwarting urban rail? Seems to fit a pattern

30 January 2019

Construction of U.S. 183 South expressway. Source: Fluor..

As previous posts on this website have noted, for about 28 years – from 1989, when light rail transit (LRT) was identified by Capital Metro as the region’s Locally Preferred Alternative for its Major Investment public transport mode, until the first quarter of 2018 – urban rail held a central and absolutely key role in Austin-area mass transit planning, memorably exemplified by the “Rail or Fail” slogan in 2014. But just as the Project Connect planning process, in early 2018, was rendering a new proposal for LRT after more than two additional years of research, public input, and analysis, that process was thwarted and reversed by a new Capital Metro administration in consort with several local officials, all focused on rubber-tired, roadway/highway-based, and sprawl-driving alternatives to rail.

The reasons for this 180-degree change in policy remain somewhat obscure. But they do seem to fit a persistent pattern of trying to minimize public transport investments in order to divert local funding resources into major new roadway projects (such as a massive overhaul to I-35). This emphasis on vast new roadway investment has been documented in a series of our previous posts:

• Why spending $4.7 billion trying to improve I-35 is a waste of money [March 2016]

• City’s “Smart Corridor” Prop. 1 bond plan promising way more than it can deliver [Sep. 2016]

• Austin — National model for how roads are strangling transit development [Oct. 2016]

• “Traffic Jam” to discuss “high capacity transit” becomes “bait & switch” push for road plans [March 2017]

• Urban Rail on Guadalupe-Lamar, Not I-35 “BRT” [July 2017]

• Officials boost roads and “Super BRT”, put urban rail on side track [Aug. 2017]

• Why TxDOT-Capital Metro “BRT” plan for I-35 is a massive boondoggle [Oct. 2017]

• Why “Super BRT” in I-35 would betray Capital Metro’s member cities [Oct. 2017]

• Plans for Smart City could be dumb choice for Austin [Jan. 2018]

• Capital Metro strikes three blows against Lamar-Guadalupe light rail [May 2018]

• Reinstate Urban Rail in Austin’s Planning [Sep.2018]

Basically attempting to reboot the “derailed” Project Connect planning process, Capital Metro has has just issued a solicitation for engineering/planning services, to include performance of an Alternative Analysis of transit mode options. But this comes in the context of about seven months of aggressive top-level hyping of the supposed advantages of “bus rapid transit” (BRT) and a chimerical mode (currently “under development”) described as “autonomous rapid transit” (ART) – autonomous (robotic) buses theoretically capable of emulating the operation of LRT trains.

Capital Metro’s recent solicitation appears to focus on the proposed “Orange Line” corridor (basically the Tech Ridge-to-Slaughter Lane alignment that consists of the N. Lamar-Guadalupe and South Congress corridors), intended for implementation of “high-capacity transit” in “dedicated pathways”. Under pressure and criticism from various community leaders and Austin councilmembers, the solicitation specifies inclusion of “Dedicated Pathways Light Rail Transit (LRT)” in the mix of modes to be considered in the Alternatives Analysis.

Unfortunately, over many previous months several local officials favoring highways and buses have, in public statesments, claimed exaggerated costs for LRT and implied that this “high cost” makes such a system unaffordable for Austin. In occasionally similar major investment planning situations in other communities, it’s been suspected that key public officials have influenced their planning teams to skew “analysis” results toward their preferred results.

Light rail can have a broad range of costs and performance results depending on key design decisions and the competence of the planning team. Will evaluation of LRT be handled fairly in the forthcoming “high-capacity transit” study for the Orange Line corridor? Transit advocates would be well-advised to do their best to help ensure that it will be.


One comment

  1. Through the first 1/2 of 2018, Transit ridership continues to decline:

    All Transit: -2.9
    Light Rail: -4.0
    Heavy Rail: -3.6
    Bus ( all size cities declined) -3.0

    Major Texas City Totals (Both Bus and Rail Declined except San Antonio with no rail)

    Austin: -2.7
    Dallas: -5.9
    Houston -1.2
    San Antonio -4.3

    Public transportation plans in Austin lack common sense, causing spending on them that provides underachieving and inadequate results that harm those most in need of public transit.

    Public Transportation attracts a very small % of people mobility in all of Texas , and Austin has suffered for decades with plans and decisions that have not boosted ridership despite huge expenditures and enormous population gains. Light Rail will do nothing to help. The corridors proposed are already attracting transit riders and it will offer loess frequent more expensive service, lowering ridership even more.

    The reason is patently obvious, that transit is slower than a personal vehicle and does not provide its “from anywhere to anywhere anytime” service.
    Other important factors are cost, efficiency and sustainability of service. Lt. Rail meets none of these despite $billions spent trying.

    Public transit use languishes despite $billions in expenditures on solutions that fail to ask and solve the simplest question: how to move people “from anywhere to anywhere anytime”.
    If that question were asked and answered honestly, most of the spending on transit systems over the last 5 decades would have been vastly different.
    The solution is so simple that it’s unconscionable that transportation responsible politicians and bureaucrats languish and rail-only-at-any-cost focused people in closed mind thinking, and consultants they hire, and interest groups that lobby them continue to clamor for too costly, inefficient, unsustainable, customer unserving solutions.
    This insanity will end only when the public and transit supporters insist that decision makers do the obvious for the good of the people.

    The only obvious, common sense solution should be Cellular Mass Transit
    CMT was invented for Austin, TX by an out of the box creative, non-transit-industry citizen: Richard Shultz and CMT, using all existing infrastructure is:
    – quickly implementable
    – affordable within the existing 1% sales tax and grants
    – sustainable
    – provides “from anywhere to anywhere anytime” service
    – ensures under 10 minute wait time using visual or automated demand based queuing
    – serves everyone and improves mobility, reach and opportunity for those without personal vehicles.
    – reduces taxpayer subsidy by more than doubling local ridership

    – is a customer demand based system
    – has more efficient 50% faster point to point service
    – divides the service area into 10 square mile cells
    – adds a transit center in the cell at a location most people in the cell already travel to for daily needs or desires
    – adds small vans to each cell which do routes within 1/4 mile of everyone, proven to be the distance that attracts people to use public transit,and/or on demand service with cellular technology
    – delivers people to destinations within their cell.
    – takes people by rapid bus or rail to other transit hubs for longer trips.
    – delivers them to remote destinations by small van.
    – takes advantage of all the road infrastructure

    CapMetro, CAMPO, City and County need to recognize and embrace and act on these simple truths and implemented an obvious solution that greatly improves public transit and actually reduces congestion..

    There is no other solution known that can do what CMT does in the world of publicly funded transit systems.
    CMT is flexible and can be easily integrated with all the new technology solutions that emerge as viable people mobility improvers.

    Contact Richard and learn more about his unbiased ideas and details on how to turn transit decline in Austin around for the good of all people.

    AustinRailNow and every other rail-at-any-cost supporter need to refocus their energies in support of a public transit solution and CMT is the only one that meets that need. CMT can happen with enough public support. Are you in?

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