Posts Tagged ‘Light rail’


UT Student Government backs West Campus, Guadalupe-Lamar route for first phase of urban rail

12 October 2013
West Campus neighborhood is area in light green just to west (left) of the Drag (Guadalupe, vertical white line just to right of center). UT campus shown in orange. Map: The Galileo, rev. by ARN.

West Campus neighborhood is area in light green just to west (left) of the Drag (Guadalupe, vertical white line just to right of center). UT campus shown in orange. Map: The Galileo, rev. by ARN.

The effort to reset Austin’s urban rail planning focus onto the Guadalupe-Lamar (G-L) corridor got a huge boost on October 1st with the University of Texas Student Government’s passage of a resolution endorsing a West Campus and Guadalupe-Lamar corridor alignment for the Phase 1 starter line of urban rail — thus implicitly rejecting the officially proposed East Campus alignment and route out to the Mueller redevelopment site.

Designated as AR 15, the resolution contains a number of “Whereas” clauses, with meticulous documentation of the facts and arguments underpinning the basic decisions. For example, the resolution notes that

…Future-use plans for neighborhoods that include significant student populations, including the Brentwood/Highland Combined Neighborhood Plan , the North Loop Neighborhood Plan, Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan, and Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan support urban rail and stations along the proposed Guadalupe-Lamar alignment; and,

… there has been over $30 million worth of studies that have looked at the feasibility of light rail transit along the Guadalupe-Lamar Corridor since the 1970s; and,

… A 2011 study at the University of California-Berkeley found that “light-rail systems need around 30 people per gross acre around stations and heavy rail systems need 50 percent higher densities than this to place them in the top one-quarter of cost-effective rail investments in the U.S.” and “the ridership gains from such increases…showed, would be substantial, especially when jobs are concentrated within ¼ mile of a station and housing within a half mile”; and,

… the largest concentration of students living off campus, West Campus, is the third-densest population district in the state of Texas with a density of over 25,000 people per square mile; and,

… a large majority of the student population along with a vast majority the Central Austin population lives along the proposed Guadalupe-Lamar alignment, totaling over 54,000 people within a quarter-mile to proposed stations ….

On the basis of this evidentiary background, declares the resolution,

BE IT RESOLVED, That the Student Government of the University of Texas at Austin is in full support of the first phase of light rail running through the Guadalupe-Lamar Sub-Corridor; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That Student Government will support any proposed urban rail line that prioritizes transportation access to where students are currently living….

The full resolution can be accessed as a DOC file:

UT-Stu-Govt_AR 15 – In Support of The Guadalupe-Lamar SubCorridor as Phase I of Austin Urban Rail

Certainly, if this vote by UT’s Student Government is any guide, the majority of UT students want an urban rail route to serve the West Campus, where they can most effectively use it.


How urban rail can be installed in the Guadalupe-Lamar corridor

10 October 2013
Except for the the somewhat clunkier styling of the railcars, this 2000 simulation of what light rail transit might look like on the Drag is not that different from one of the options today. Graphic: Light Rail Now collection.

Except for the the somewhat clunkier styling of the railcars, this 2000 simulation of what light rail transit might look like on the Drag is not that different from one of the options today. Graphic: Light Rail Now collection.

by Lyndon Henry

Some supporters of the Guadalupe-Lamar (G-L) corridor for Austin’s urban rail starter line have been seeking details about how urban rail (i.e., light rail transit, or LRT) would be installed in these thoroughfares — running in mixed traffic, in reserved lanes, or how? At about the same time, proponents of the Official (aka City of Austin-Capital Metro) proposal for an urban rail line from downtown to Mueller have recently begun raising the issue of right-of-way (ROW) constraints in this same G-L corridor.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Mueller proposal itself has its own ROW constraints and other challenges, but I think it would be helpful here to address some of the issues in the G-L corridor. One of the reasons for this is that I’m not convinced that all parties in the Project Connect team will necessarily make a good-faith effort to find a truly workable, affordable design for inserting urban rail into the G-L thoroughfare alignments — and advocates need to be prepared to insist that valid (and proven) alternatives be examined.

The basic idea is for urban rail (light rail transit, LRT) to operate totally, or almost entirely, in its own lanes. This would require some reconstruction of Lamar Blvd. and probably Guadalupe St. in sections, including slight narrowing of existing lanes, elimination of the turning (“chicken”) lane and replacement with transit-integrated traffic controls (such as left turn lanes), and other measures. Light rail systems in places like Portland, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, etc. are models for this.

Having crossed intersection, Houston LRT train accesses station on Fannin St. as traffic control system allows queue of motor vehicles to make left turn over track reservation behind it.

Having crossed intersection, Houston LRT train accesses station on Fannin St. as traffic control system allows queue of motor vehicles to make left turn over track reservation behind it. Photo: Peter Ehrlich.

Also keep in mind that Project Connect’s longer-range plan for buses on Lamar-Guadalupe is to install tens of millions of dollars’ worth of reserved lanes — so official planners are already prepared to bite a bullet on this basic issue. What advocates of urban rail in the G-L corridor are saying is that it makes a lot more sense to install reserved lanes for rail rather than buses.

It’s possible that there might be a short section of LRT in mixed traffic (one or both tracks). Sacramento’s LRT operates with this kind of compromise (for about a mile along 12th St., approaching the city’s downtown from the northwest), and has done so for the past 26 years — see Advantages of Light Rail in Street Alignments.

Sacramento's LRT shares one lane with traffic along 12th St.

Sacramento’s LRT shares one lane with traffic along 12th St.

There’s a very narrow section on the Drag (especially in the 24th-29th St. area) that might require, totally or partially, something like an interlaced (“gauntlet”) track (i.e., two tracks overlapping each other). This would operate effectively like a single-track section but could be fitted into 5-minute headways and possible shorter. (In Amsterdam, interlaced track is even used with 2-minute headways. More on this rail design configuration in a subsequent posting.)

Further downtown, south of MLK Blvd., it would be logical for the double-track line on Guadalupe to split into two single-track lines — southbound on Guadalupe, northbound on Lavaca St. However, it’s likely that LRT would need its own priority lanes in these streets.

Here’s why: The “Transit Priority Lanes” now being installed on the Lavaca and Guadalupe street pair already seem to present major problems for MetroRapid bus, much less LRT. The reason: Official plans involve inserting MetroRapid into a single lane each way along with well over two dozen bus routes. The City’s own 2011 study of this warned that delays to transit might result. And that’s even before urban rail comes along.

It seems eminently reasonable that LRT would need its own reserved lanes on the opposite side of each street (Lavaca and Guadalupe) from the bus lanes. It’s possible that urban rail could perhaps share lane use with MetroRapid, but not with all those other routes.

Since MetroRapid buses can operate only on the righthand side of the street, these buses (with righthand-side doors) couldn’t share a “lefthand” lane with urban rail on the opposite side of each street. So the solution seems to come down to reserving an additional lane exclusively for urban rail on each street.


Advantages of Light Rail in Street Alignments

22 April 2013

Sacramento’s light rail system shares space with general traffic in one direction on 12 th St., just north of the city’s CBD. Photo: Eric Haas.

The issue of installing reservations (e.g., reserving existing street lanes) for light rail transit (LRT) in highly constricted urban arterial corridors is a continuously recurring issue for urban public transportation discussions, and it became particularly intense in Austin’s Transit Working Group (TWG) meetings in late April/early May of 2012. Conceding some street space to transit is a wide practice in almost all major world cities, and in the last several decades has become increasingly recognized as a necessity for maintaining mobility in U.S. cities like Austin.

Surface transit, particularly surface LRT, has special advantages — ease of access for passengers, increased public visibility, for example — but it’s also the lowest-cost way to install high-quality rail transit. Of course, using exclusive alignments (which are typically abandoned or lightly used railway corridors) is one way to get lower-cost surface alignments, but these often don’t go through the heart of cities, reaching all the activity centers it’s necessary to serve. One way or another, at least some of the existing grid of urban streets needs to be used.

And they are used, to great success, in cities like Dallas, Houston, San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver. Minneapolis, and other cities where some street space has been dedicated to transit. In several other cities, portions of streets are also dedicated to reserved use by buses.

But often it’s hard for public officials, accustomed to accommodating as much motor vehicle traffic as possible, to understand that (especially with urban population growth) this traffic will eventually overwhelm the street system, and that installing urban rail in streets can ultimately achieve far greater and more sustainable mobility. But (despite nominal lip service to advancing a “green” agenda and endorsing public transit conceptually) official policy often remains resistant to giving priority to public transit use of available street space.

Whatever the cause, several members of Austin’s TWG began questioning the relevance of proposed surface LRT for urban rail in key streets of central-city Austin. Instead, they suggested, Austin should shift focus to some kind of subway-elevated system. In response, Lyndon Henry presented a commentary titled Advantages of Light Rail in Street Alignments (11 May 2012) which summarized the benefits of surface construction and pointed to the success of Sacramento’s LRT line (shown in photo above), which uses a number of street alignments in the central city, and runs one of its tracks on 12th St. in shared traffic and the other in a reservation. The following is adapted from the original text of Henry’s printed commentary:

♦ Some important aspects and advantages of surface light rail transit (LRT)

Much lower capital cost — On average, 1/3 the cost of elevated guideway, 1/10 the cost of subway…

Lower operating/maintenance cost — Compared with elevated or subway, surface LRT systems and stations are easier and cheaper to operate and maintain…

Outracing private cars isn’t realistic — Central-city urban rail systems (even subway or elevated services) typically can’t “outrace” cars, because of multiple station-stops. Also, because of frequent center-city stops, <strong>LRT is almost as fast as subway or elevated services…

Rail’s special attractiveness — Faster than most bus transit; faster than some personal car trips; cheaper than private car travel; riders can read, use laptops, or otherwise use time during travel; eliminates parking hassles; eliminates stress of highway commute; more space, ride comfort, reliability, safety than bus alternative; rail routes easier to understand…

Available, publicly owned right-of-way — Typically available to a public transit operation…

Heavily developed corridors — Major established public thoroughfares typically are where much of a city’s activity is and where people want to travel to or from…

Passengers like the view — Passengers prefer to be able to see the cityscape they’re traveling through — this helps orientate them to where they are…

Surface stations are more accessible — Typically, surface stations (without stairs, elevators, etc.) are far more accessible to both the general public and passengers with ambulatory constraints…

Transit deserves priority — Public transit is the sustainable transport of the future, and cities like Austin must start re-prioritizing and re-allocating available street space to favor transit

Alignment versatility — LRT has always been a “hybrid” … able to operate in street reservations, mixed traffic, exclusive railway alignments, elevated, subway…

Design versatility — Street alignments can include a broad range of design options, depending on specific challenges, such as right-of-way width, traffic volume, etc. … including short segments of single track, gantlet (interlaced) track, both tracks in mixed traffic, one track mixed + one track reserved (see example above, Sacramento LRT in 12th St.) Often, these measures are useful for relatively short, more constricted segments of an alignment…

♦ Examples of successful street-routed light rail

All-reserved lanes — San Diego, Portland (MAX LRT), Baltimore, Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Houston, Tacoma (streetcar), Tampa (streetcar), Phoenix…• Mixed-traffic segments — Sacramento (see photo above), Portland (streetcar), Seattle (streetcar)…