Monday, May 28, 2007

Austin Dreaming

Originally uploaded by Transit Nerds
While Austin had the ASG plan and Envision Central Texas, there hasn't been any talk of the Space Race there in any format. After the commuter rail is completed where do they go? Streetcar? Will it get built and is it really the foot in the door that will lead to light rail? Might light rail come back? It might be time for a big vision from the grass roots on up. In the space race it seems that places with big visions are getting far and places that are complaining about gas prices are not. The vision is not just talking about where lines should go but rather three key components...

1. Affordability - Everyone knows that gas prices are going up and working families are going to be hit hardest. But they don't really have transit options that allow them to save money and time in Austin. I know when i stay with my friend in the Arboretum, there is no meaningful way for me to get downtown. So taking a cab is the only option unless i want to have someone pick me up. I can't see people taking cabs every day or waiting an hour for the #3 bus to get downtown. The express bus is for commuters only.
2. Energy Independence - Everyone is talking about energy in terms of CAFE standards and alternative energy, but people need to get that our built environment is a huge part of our energy consumption. This is how we need to talk about transit. Not only is rail efficient, but it's effective in networks...not one line here and there. So in order to deal with energy issues, we need to have a frank discussion about the energy savings of a transit network, specifically when it comes down to creating transit corridors and land use decisions. A rail network will allow these corridors to grow and perhaps pay for part of the infrastructure cost of implementing it.
3. Mobility - We would be remiss to leave this one out. People need to be able to get places. This means that lines need to connect to each other in a meaningful way that allows people to get to where they want to go efficiently. Efficient high speed transit will do it.

Now don't get me wrong, as I always say, Automobiles have their place, especially Mayor Wynn's plug-in hybrids but they still as i've said before promote sprawl and energy inefficient land use patterns and transport. Here in San Francisco I own a car but perhaps drive it once a week and fill up my tank about once a month. $4.85 gas just doesn't matter to me. And it shouldn't affect everyone everywhere else so drastically either.

Dreams: So here is a random vision for transit in Austin. This is basically thoughts on paper about how Austin might grow a network so that more people use it transit. I'm guessing this network would be pretty expensive, but think of all the money we've tossed into highways. I imagine the economic impact of this network would far outweigh its cost.

Blue - A light rail spine is the first step to this
Orange - The orange line goes into the student jammed riverside then to the airport. This will connect students to school and travelers to international destinations without having to get in a car.
Red - Commuter rail lines. These are not typical diesel commuter rail lines. These should be electric and every 20 minutes off peak. They should connect to job centers like Dell in Round Rock and San Marcos San Antonio and perhaps the airport
Yellow - Express bus networks. This needs to be a part of the network. We have roads so we might as well use them, especially in areas that probably don't have heavy transit usage but perhaps would grow with better service.
Purple - Rapid Streetcar network. This network of streetcars would run along major corridors helping to redevelop them into mixed use centers where people can walk from their neighborhoods to get groceries or catch a streetcar downtown or to activity centers. Parts of the streetcar network will run on light rail ROW to increase headways between major centers downtown while some will be bi-directional with passing sidings at stations and track signaling so that they have their own right of way. It will also be cheaper to build while still being able to operate at 10 minute headways.

So this is an idea. I did it just for kicks because this is what I'd like to see happen in order for Austin to enter the transit space race. But let's do a quick hypothetical. Say that 40% of Austinites (from the 2000 census) were using transit on a daily basis. If they increased their location efficiency enough to reduce their driving by 5000 miles per year at 20mpg that would be a savings of $1000 at 4$ per gallon. If added all together, that $1000 of 40% is $276 million per year. Over the lifecycle of the network which can be 50 years, this amounts to $13.8 billion dollars in savings or $50,000 dollars per person who uses it, not including benefits to property owners etc. Of course it's just hypothetical like I always do but this is how we need to look at costs. Not how much does it cost but what do we get out of it?


Mike said...

Here comes grumpy M1EK, back from Hawaii just this morning:

1. Plugin hybrid not gonna happen. Not now, probably not ever. Really being sold as a money-maker for Austin Energy (and hence, indirectly, the city). Toyota just reported in the last couple of days that Li-ion batteries aren't going to be ready for the next-gen Prius.

B. Commuter rail precludes light rail. Even in dreamland. Unless you can somehow dream up a world where we can basically shut down the Lamar/Airport intersection to everything but trains. Also, the route staying purely on Lamar without going into the ANWRR ROW (where commuter rail runs to the northwest) is not feasible - the population in north-central Austin is largely poor and transit-dependent, i.e., already riding the bus; and the speeds would be very low to boot (entirely street-running with way too many cross streets). No link here; I've covered those objections so many times I can't pick just one.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

k, please explain why we can't string wire on the commuter line and run LRT on that corridor? And why wasn't Light Rail precluded before with the freight issue? I went back and read your posts on it and you say its an intersection issue, could you explain further.

Mike said...

1. Commuter rail kept the corridor single-tracked. Very hard to go back and retrofit as double-tracked while running existing service. Nigh-impossible. But true LRT would require double-tracking almost everywhere in order to get service frequencies high enough.

2. Their DMU vehicles can't make corners downtown or near UT.

3. If we assume commuter rail service continues, new LRT service up Lamar would require that the intersection at Lamar/Airport be closed an astoundingly high percentage of the time during rush hours. IE, when crossing, LRT trains would require no turns from Lamar onto Airport; DMU trains would require no through traffic on Lamar. Note that the original LRT plan would have required that southbound Lamar through traffic (and turns to same) be halted, but nothing else - northbound could have kept going, as well as Lamar-to-Airport.

Some of those objections are primarily technical, and some are primarily political, but all are going to be impossible to overcome. Doesn't matter anyways - the market for LRT continuing north up Lamar isn't an attractive one - you just enter the Rundberg ghetto - where people are largely already taking the bus.