Pilot program to close 4 Congress Ave. bus stops

This bus stop on Congress at 6th street is one of four that will be closing next month. Will it make Congress safer?

On Nov. 6, four bus stops on Congress will close as part of a pilot program to try to improve travel times and safety on Congress.
Here are the stops:

Northbound, Congress at 6th
Northbound, Congress at 7th
Southbound, Congress at 8th
Southbound, Congress at 7th

Riders of routes 1L/1M, 2, 5, 6, 7, 20, 30, 101, 127, 142, 174, and 990 who board/get off the bus at one of the four stops will find their stops within one or two blocks proximity.

You might be asking, Why, Capital Metro? Why?

Congress Avenue poses many challenges to Capital Metro. There’s a ton of bus traffic (and every other type of traffic) on Congress between Cesar Chavez and 11th Street. Right now there is even more traffic than usual because of the construction on Brazos. A comment was made by a couple of people over here, including CEO Linda S. Watson, that you can sometimes (often? always?) walk down Congress faster than you can ride a bus down Congress. Our buses stop at every block, resulting in “stacking” of the buses. 

Angled in parking down both sides of Congress also creates a hazard for transit. Cars backing into buses, ladders and other stuff hanging out of the back of trucks, bus mirrors clipping each other–they’re all a cause for concern on Congress. A significant number of minor collisions involving a Capital Metro bus occur along Congress.

Many bus stops on Congress are not ideal for customers, either, often squeezed in between intersections, sidewalks and parking–not always the best customer experience.

So, we’re trying this pilot out, which in theory will speed up your travel time down Congress and reduce the number of collisions that cost us money and slow you down. If the pilot program is successful at reducing collisions and improving travel time along Congress, Capital Metro may consider making the closures permanent, as well as closing additional stops along Congress to coincide with the January 2011 service change. Capital Metro will work with the City of Austin and other organizations to improve bus stops and amenities at the remaining stops.

Although riders may have to walk farther to get to their stops or to make transfers, the tradeoff will be a faster, safer ride. What do you think? Is the tradeoff worth it?



54 thoughts on “Pilot program to close 4 Congress Ave. bus stops

      1. Thanks for your awesome comeback and completely content-free contribution. Let’s be generous and assume this isn’t Ed Easton talking.

        The 2020 Service Plan proposal has this on Page 5-3:

        “Address Congress Street operational issues, which are causing speed and reliability issues for
        many routes in downtown Austin, by shifting most local service from Colorado, Congress, and
        Brazos to the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor.”

        The 2020 plan envisions this happening after improvements are made to Guadalupe/Lavaca which is likely less than 3 years away.

      2. Ed Easton

        No need to be generous Mike — that was me.

        Even if the infrastructure improvements are complete in three years on Guadalupe and Lavaca what’s wrong with 36 months of improved traffic flow, safety, and transit times on Congress? It costs very little money to remove a bus stop and all three of those things are the likely result. That’s why we’re proposing it.

      3. Then I’ll retract my niceness – the thinly veiled contempt for one of your customers, especially one who actually knows what he’s talking about most of the time, is truly breathtaking.

        As to why not do it now – because it will make things more difficult for your customers. The extra walk on the end of the trip is a big deal. You’re most likely making things a bit better for motorists on Congress at the expense of your passengers.

      4. Ed

        Well if you took it as thinly veiled contempt Mike I apologize. I meant it as a snarkily worded jibe to someone that might “get” the humor or at least appreciate the attempt. While I might argue some of your methods I do believe that you know what you’re talking about most of the time…

        Thanks for the comment on the inconvenience… obviously that’s the trade off. My personal take on that is that nobody is going to be asked to move to a stop that is more than three blocks away (and many will see no change at all), so the benefits outweigh that. Good to see the discussion on here that others disagree.

      5. Ed, I would have been among those of you who think 3 blocks is no big deal as recently as a few years ago – before I spent some time in a wheelchair in an airport, and with very limited mobility for a long time after that (reactive arthritis = bad feet). Even though I’m back to the point where 2 more blocks wouldn’t be a big deal for me personally most days, I try to remember what that time was like.

        The other thing is that the extra 2 blocks walk is a time inconvenience too. Local buses are already substantially slower than the private automobile. At the margins, every five minutes you give to the car is likely a couple of passengers you will lose – for good. And I have a hard time believing bus speeds will increase much – when I have travelled by bus in this corridor it is very rarely another bus that’s in the way.

  1. Don Dickson

    What I don’t understand is why you’re only eliminating two stops in each direction. You ought to eliminate every stop at which traffic can make a right turn. Just eliminating two stops is not going to save all that much time.

    And the 101 ought to stop only at 2nd, 6th and 10th. Or just at 6th….that would be awesome. That would make the 101 significantly faster than the 1L/1M.

  2. Don Dickson

    BTW I saw the article in the Impact newspaper about the future of Congress Avenue, and I hope everyone else did. Instead of taking the BUSES off Congress Avenue, we ought to take the CARS off the avenue. THAT is how you will somehow, someday, realize the true potential of Congress Avenue as a magnetic destination and a spine for downtown transit.

  3. Jason

    I definitely agree with Don about taking the cars off of Congress Avenue. The street would make a great pedestrian/transit mall between Cesar Chavez and 11th. Many cities in the United States have designated streets as transit malls, such as Minneapolis, Denver and Portland.

    If this is not possible, at minimum the City of Austin should consider removing the on-street parking from Congress Avenue in order to improve pedestrian amenities (such as those being installed on 2nd Street). It would also be nice if they designated the right lane on Congress for buses and right turns only.

    1. LisaH

      Definitely, the best way to reduce congestion would be to eliminate individual passenger vehicles (and enforce rules about delivery vehicles). Allow carpool vans and those bitty GoCars maybe, but not the larger, one-person vehicles which actually are the bulk of the stacking.

      1. Brad

        This sounds great, but I think we need to be realistic. This will not happen. I do wonder what the reaction would be if we removed parking from that section of Congress.

  4. Tom Thayer

    I haven’t noticed a whole lot of congestion on Congress in the morning. A little more in the afternoon, but nothing like Guadalupe/Lavaca.

    I think this could confuse potential bus riders as they go to a corner and the bus just rides by. It reduces predictability in the bus stops downtown.

    Downtown is a major destination, so speeding up the buses going through it doesn’t make sense.

    This will not increase ridership and could actually reduce it.

    1. Erik

      “…four bus stops on Congress will close as part of a pilot program to try to improve travel times and safety on Congress.”

      This has nothing to do with car congestion, but rather, bus congestion. I don’t know how often you travel directly through downtown on bus, but it can take 15-20 minutes to go 15 blocks at times. By adding additional time/distance between stops this will hypothetically prevent the “build-up” of busses at every single intersection, waiting their turn at each and subsequently missing numerous lights as a result — because they’re unable to reach customers waiting to board while the light is red.

      1. Tom Thayer

        I usually get on or off the bus downtown and/or make a transfer. I do rarely go all the way through downtown on the bus, but I bet for a lot of people, downtown is the destination or origin of their trip.

        I kind of doubt your 15-20 minutes through downtown for the Congress Ave buses. Even so, buses going slowly through downtown makes it easier for riders to catch their bus and make transfers. Buses zipping along quickly and not stopping for 2-3 blocks will make it much more difficult.

        Buses would go really fast if not for pesky riders getting on and off. Let’s just get rid of them!

  5. Brad

    I’m shocked, shocked that M1EK doesn’t like it.

    I think it is reasonable to reduce the stops on Congress to speed up the bus service and reduce car congestion. I don’t think it is a big deal for people to walk an extra block or 2.

      1. Don Dickson

        Gotta disagree with you about this, Mike. The buses DO slow down the buses. The only thing slower than a Capital Metro bus between the Capitol and Cesar Chavez, is a Capital Metro bus behind another Capital Metro bus between the Capitol and Cesar Chavez.

        The cars mostly have the good sense to stay out of the outside lanes except to park or turn.

        Northbound in the morning rush hour, Cesar Chavez to 12th and Lavaca takes 14-16 minutes. I could walk it in about the same time if I weren’t hauling 20 lbs. of laptop and files. In the evening rush hour, 14th and Guadalupe to Cesar Chavez is about 20 minutes. And ditto.

        I don’t know if closing two stops in each direction is really going to change much of anything. But I have my fingers crossed.

  6. Absp

    If bus stacking is the problem, eliminating stops won’t solve it as the buses would still stack on the other stops. You could have half of the buses stop at every odd street and half at every even street although that would confuse many riders. In any case, eliminating both 6th and 7th streets is a bad idea as those are major transfer points. Why not 9th/8th and 2nd/3rd instead?

  7. Absp

    Closing stops won’t solve the problem of bus stacking as the buses would just stack in the next stop. The problem is that all buses have to stop at all stops. One solution used in some areas of NYC are to have say half of the buses stop at every odd street and the other half at every even street. It would cause confusion for sure but it would reduce bus stacking.

    Also, why is 6th Street being closed? It is one of the major transfer points along Congress. Why not 9th or 3rd instead?

    (reposted as my first comment didn’t show up)

    1. Good points Absp. This is indeed a practice used with some success in other cities. It does limit your opportunity to easily transfer between those buses, but then again the number of people transferring from one N-S route to a different one is pretty small compared to the N-S to E-W transfers.

  8. Kirk

    Perhaps we could simply stipulate that whatever Capital Metro proposes, M1EK will dislike. Most things in life are a trade-off; you gain one thing, but lose another, you benefit one constituent, but anger another. I understand the concern over the impact this may have on the disabled, the ill, and the elderly. The fact is, Capital Metro serves a wider community than just those individuals, and should consider the impact on them as well. If this speeds the journey for most, then so be it. And yes, M1EK will argue ’til the cows come home (not on a Metro bus) that it will not speed that journey; we get it.

    Also consider that there are factors simply not under the control of Cap Metro. They don’t dictate how many cars, if any, are allowed on Congress. They can’t send buses to some locations due to complaints by property owners (or the Governor). Their actions are based on analysis of available data, but modified by politics and the reaction of the community at large. I’m guessing that given the timing of this ‘test’, there’s more to the story than simply addressing traffic concerns, otherwise this could have been delayed a couple of months until the January service change Is there anyone at Cap Metro willing to state that this test isn’t the result of complaints by downtown merchants, pressure from City of Austin, or some other non-safety related issue?

    1. Perhaps you could realize that I don’t bother to post when I agree with what they’re doing. Nah, easier to just whine.

      I’ve spent a lot of time over the years defending Capital Metro’s bus operations against the “the buses are always empty” troglodytes.

      1. Brad

        Interesting, so you basically admit you just like to bitch and complain? That’s your right, but don’t be so shocked offended when people get tired of hearing it.

      2. M1EK, if you’re going to complain about the things you disagree with, it might be useful to comment favorably on the things you do agree with. Otherwise you come across as the whiner.

      3. Kirk

        I haven’t lived here as long as you, M1EK. I wasn’t around when the light rail initiative was defeated. And while I know you’ve fought a long battle against what you see as waste, inefficiency, or worse, I’m not familiar with the complete history. So if I grow weary of the constant reminders of how you pointed all of this out long ago, forgive me.

        I do agree with exileimaging in that it might be nice to see you actually post a compliment. Perhaps you have and I missed it, and if so, again forgive me. It’s just that all I recall in the time I’ve been following this blog is a litany of how Capital Metro is wrong, and you’re right.

      4. Bitching with content is always better than bitching about bitching.

        Here’s a whole category of blog posts where I do nothing BUT defend Capital Metro against the “the buses are always empty” lie: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/cat_empty_buses.html

        I have posted compliments here, although rarely. Guess what? When a lot of the energy on this blog is spent on policy decisions that are screwing Austin in favor of non-taxpaying suburban entities, guess what a lot of the comments are going to be about?

  9. Erik

    Another discussion altogether but MetroRapid will only have 4 stops in the downtown stretch of Congress. Speaking of, what’s the ETA? Are we waiting on Prop 1 to provide COA the funding to retrofit the traffic signals? Seems like CMTA has more than enough funding (local and federal) at this point to do it all themselves, amirite?

    1. Misty

      Erik, we are in the procurement process for the vehicles and will be going to the board for approval soon. Service is expected to begin by 2013. As for the stops downtown, they will be in the Guadalupe/Lavaca corridor. This project is not directly tied into Prop 1.

      1. Erik

        In February, when $24 mil in additional federal funds were announced, Tina Bui wrote on this blog: “I will say that we *hope/plan* to begin service on the first line, North Lamar/South Congress, in 2012.” Interesting tidbit: Private developers can build Austin’s largest high-rise building in the span of 1/4 the time it’s going to take you to get these buses running.

  10. Kelly

    I agree with eric, Isnt 2013 a bit much for just a couple of light changes and an order of pretty buses. Gorgeous Metro rapid by the way! 🙂 It almost rivals seattle’s King County Metro Rapid ride. but then agaim I dont want to get the light rail supporters started, so I will end with GO Cap Metro!!

    1. Misty

      Kelly and Erik, the plan is to have both rapid routes up by 2013. We’re planning to have the first route, North Lamar/South Congress, open in 2012. In addition to purchasing new buses, which take at least a year to build, we’re also constructing new bus stops designated for MetroRapid. We’re hoping to begin construction early next year after we receive the project construction grant agreement from the FTA.

  11. Don Dickson

    As a daily rider of the 1L/1M, it has been my experience that the performance of these routes has deteriorated in recent months, and closing a couple of Congress Avenue bus stops isn’t a cure-all.

    Today I proved that you can still walk through the downtown area faster than you can ride.

    At precisely 8:00 a.m. this morning I arrived at the northbound stop at 611 South Congress to ride the bus to the courthouse. Someone else was already waiting there; he said he’d been waiting three or four minutes. Several minutes later the 101 went by before the 1L/1M, as it almost always does for reasons I am at a loss to explain, since it runs less frequently than the 1L/1M.

    The 1L/1M arrived at 8:12 a.m. It was full. I stood. I overheard the driver report to the dispatcher that he was twelve minutes down.

    The bus arrived at 12th and Lavaca at 8:29 a.m. Thus, 29 minutes for the trip from 611 SoCo to 12th and Lavaca — twelve minutes of waiting and seventeen minutes of standing.

    My court hearing got postponed. I decided I didn’t want to be in a suit and tie all day for nothing, so I walked home to change clothes. I left the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center (509 West 11th) at precisely 9:00 a.m.

    At 9th and Guadalupe I stopped to talk to another lawyer for three or four minutes.

    I arrived at the northbound bus stop at 611 SoCo at 9:26 a.m.

    This is unacceptable! And on the weekends….don’t even get me started on the weekends….this past Saturday evening at about 8 p.m. I waited at that northbound stop at 611 SoCo for over FORTY MINUTES before I GAVE UP and flagged down a cab for a $17 ride to 29th and Guadalupe.

    It’s unacceptable! This is the spinal column of your transit system! It needs to operate more efficiently and more reliably! And it needs to be faster than walking!

    1. Erik

      Agreed. Often times (especially Fri/Sat nights) I’d get off the #1 at 12th/Congress and walk quicker to 6th/Congress than the bus I just got off. Wtf?

  12. Robin

    Stop the drivers from parking ‘in service’ buses to take personal time/breaks.

    This slows down buses and congests up Congress—among other streets.

    People want to board public transit to ‘transit’. We don’t want to idle on the side of a road watching the driver read, smoke or chat on a cell phone.

    And other drivers probally don’t want to have to attempt navigating around the bus to make their destination on time.

    It’s not respectful, it’s not professional and it undermines the agency’s image.

    1. Erik

      That’s probably a convenience thing more so for the drivers who have to change shifts, since it’s centrally located and intersects with eastbound busses to take them to/from HQ on pleasant valley. I agree though, but more realistically it would be beneficial to remove a block of parking so the busses could have their own area to idle for breaks/transitions.

    2. Don Dickson

      Robyn, I’ve never seen that happen in the downtown area, except of course where the driver changes often take place at 2nd (n/b) and Cesar Chavez (s/b). I don’t really understand why CM chose those locations for driver changes; seems to me there’s got to be a better place to do that.

      I won’t begrudge a driver a trip to the lavatory at a convenience store, or a quick fill-up of a fountain drink, or just a quick stretch of his or her legs and back muscles. But it’s funny how they always seem to do it when you’re in the biggest hurry. 🙂

  13. Don Dickson

    Got home, changed, ate a bagel, took a phone call, checked my email….decided to give the bus a second chance because now I was carrying 15 lbs. of laptop and files. Went back to the northbound stop at 611 South Congress at 10:39. Thumb-twiddling, la-dee-da….The 101 went by, (of course), fourteen minutes later, at 10:53. The 1L/1M arrived at 10:54. It reached 12th and Lavaca at 11:06, a 27-minute trip. Googlemaps says that’s a distance of 1.5 miles, so a 27-minute trip results in an effective velocity of 3.33 miles per hour.

    Don’t tell me to buy a bicycle, because I don’t want to ride a bike with my laptop and files any more than I wanted to walk back to my office with them. Run a better bus system!

  14. Erik

    You waited 15 minutes, big deal. Do you expect busses to run every 5 minutes? Maybe if you had left your house just a couple minutes earlier (or checked the schedule via smartphone) you would’ve caught the prior 1L/1M without issue. Transit doesn’t do all the work for you, you kind of have to do your part.

    Your *actual* travel time was twice as long by bus (12 min) though vs Google’s estimate via car (5 min) — but the punchline here is via bicycle it’d only take 11 min. Get a bike 🙂

  15. Don Dickson

    Erik, the 1L/1M is supposed to run every 11 minutes, so it’s hardly worth checking Google Transit to try to get the sun and the moon and the stars in proper alignment….especially if the buses aren’t on schedule anyway. You just figure there’ll be one every 11 minutes or so. And sure, depending on whether I’m having good bus karma or bad bus karma on a particular day, my wait time might be one minute, or fifteen, or twenty. Thirty-five years ago I had the math skills that I could have told you about standard deviations and confidence levels and all that stuff. 🙂 In my doddering dotage, characterized by long-ago-faded math skills, it will have to suffice to say that you should expect an average wait of five or six minutes for a bus that is scheduled to arrive every eleven minutes.

    The thing is, that when a bus falls behind schedule, it is sure to fall farther behind as it proceeds along its route. There will be more people waiting. There will be fewer seats. There will be more boardings and disembarcations. There will be more frequent stops and longer idling times at those stops. It all makes me wonder why CM doesn’t have buses available to “plug in” to the middle of a route when the buses already progressing along the route are falling behind schedule.

    I can’t TELL you how many times I’ve waited a very long time for the 1L/1M only to find two of them proceeding bumper-to-bumper.

    1. Erik

      My apologies Don, I thought it was a frequency of every 15 minutes around 10AM. You’re definitely pointing out another data set which could be more sophisticatedly managed. I wonder what CM’s contingency plan is to resolve routes that have fallen out of sync? I know in my experience that drivers more than 20 minutes off cycle continued to take their 10-15 min breaks as if operating normally, and I’ve seen instances where these very same drivers then passed the bus off to another shift running behind schedule and forcing the next driver to slam on the gas and provide quite rude customer service. These sorts of situations kind of speak volumes to CM’s message of “please arrive at the stop 5-10 minutes ahead of time” — that’s kind of a slap in the face. I’ve stopped arriving early because far too many times the bus is nowhere to be found. And then sometimes the bus is 5 minutes early and I’m screwed. Real-time GPS exists in the organization, right? Seems like a lot could be done to keep these busses running more on-time if the operators don’t keep up their end of the bargain. One would imagine an operator’s performance would/should be based on their routes being on schedule.


    I don’t know what you guys think they can do to fix this – city buses running in shared traffic with realistic (economically realistic, I mean) headways cannot be done much betyter than this – period. Yes, fripperies like GPS and nextBus signs would make it a bit easier to make decisions that might save you a minute or two, but the actual service is unimproveable in the world we actually live in – no bus lanes; very little money for operating subsidy; etc).

    For instance, one reason the buses are almost always late is because it’s even worse to be early – a common complaint on twitter from folks I follow. Can’t have it both ways though – you’re either early some of the time or late pretty much all of the time.

    Too bad we’ll never have urban rail here, huh?

    1. Don Dickson

      I’ll tell you what, Mike, one very simple thing that would have a hugely beneficial effect on travel times between the Capitol and Cesar Chavez, is simply to synchronize the traffic lights.

      It still amuses and infuriates me that the City of Austin can synchronize ten block of holiday lights, but can’t synchronize the stupid traffic signals over the same stretch of roadway.

      1. The “synchronize the lights” fairy doesn’t work anywhere near as well (or easily) as either transit passengers or drivers think. Especially on a two-way corridor with turning signals like Congress.

        Not that it would matter for buses anyways – with stops their speed would be too unpredictable to synchronize to.

      2. Will

        Good point by Mike; Timing the traffic lights on a grid system (“synchronization” of lights is kind of a misnomer) is not the simple thing it’s often made out to be . . . and it’s an on-going effort, not something you can do once and check off a list.

        As for the holiday lights – those don’t belong to the city, but to the Downtown Alliance. And, unfortunately, they don’t work very well.

  17. Don Dickson

    LOL got to my 611 SoCo bus stop this morning only to find that the n/b 1 had just gone by, with the 101 right in front of it, and both were waiting at the light at Congress and Riverside. So I started walking because I had a hunch….

    Sure enough….Caught up with the 1 and boarded it on its detoured stop at Riverside and South First.

    I really oughtta just walk to work.

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