Ok. I guess I should come clean. In 2004 I held my breath and voted for the Capital Metro commuter rail line when I lived in Austin. Given my small coalition of activists couldn't quite push the commuter rail line away or spark greater talk than a study of streetcars I just closed my eyes and voted for the commuter rail line hoping that it would all work out in the end. At the time there was some despair that if it didn't pass there wouldn't be another rail election for a very very long time. The 2000 loss still stung and though we kept fighting for light rail down Guadalupe during the Calthorpe led public input and other avenues it just wasn't going to happen if the leadership didn't want it to.
Ultimately all of this led to me writing my graduate school thesis on the politics of rail in Austin where I concluded from lots of reading of past articles about the process that Mike Krusee basically manipulated the system to get transit to his part of the region, even though he wasn't even a representative inside the service area. Since then he's had a "come to jesus" on New Urbanism and left state office but every time I think of what happened it makes me sick to my stomach what could have been. But it turns out that it wasn't just him. It was former GM Fred Gilliam and a whole host of people that just didn't want to push for the right route down the center of the region for fear of political retribution. And apparently they still don't because the Red Line has sapped the energy out of any forward movement and other regional entities keep proposing suburban serving lines that do nothing for the constituencies that actually voted for rail in that 2004 election.
So color me annoyed when regional planners start talking about spending $340M on a line that might get 5,800 riders to Round Rock. The current line is under 1,000 riders a day and cost $120M. This is in contrast to the 2000 plan which was $740M for 37,400 riders. I still can't believe that no one in the city looks at these numbers and wonders, why the heck do we keep proposing to spend money on these lines that won't have ridership until we have a good core connection line. Sorry for the crude paint map, but the blue line is 2000 and the black line is the current commuter rail line. Always go where the people are, not where the freight line happens to go.
M1ek has been harping on this for a long time and he's always made some good points. Obviously I don't agree with everything he says and I do wish that he'd be a bit more diplomatic and less in people's faces about it because it seems like once he annoys someone, they tune him out. But at some point folks have to start thinking about whether they are continuing to throw good money after bad and just swallow their pride. Anything less than a line down Guadalupe is the city selling itself short. And if you don't believe me, take a look at the FTA document linked above. You want riders for cheap? Connect places where people are. It's not rocket science.