Earlier this week, the Austin Transportation Department released a Preliminary Engineering Report for Guadalupe St. near the University of Texas campus. Commonly known as “The Drag”, this section of roadway sees some of the highest levels of transit ridership in the entire Capital Metro system.
However, riders all too often find that riding through that part of town really is a drag. Why? Because even though more than half of the people traveling north and south on Guadalupe on any given weekday morning or afternoon are in our buses, they’re usually still stuck in heavy traffic. In other words, a bus that can carry more than 40 people is given the exact same level of priority as a car with just one.
And that’s why we’re so excited about the proposed improvements to The Drag, and particularly the addition of transit priority lanes: They improve travel for the maximum number of people, regardless of how they travel. Those lanes are projected to save up to three minutes per bus trip. Sounds great, you might say to yourself with a bit of sarcasm, but what’s three minutes? Well, while it may not seem like much, think about the fact that there are about 1,400 bus trips through that stretch of road each weekday.
Now, add up all the people riding over the course of a week, a month and year. That’s hundreds of hours saved every day and hundreds of thousands of hours every year. Plus, faster, more reliable service attracts more riders to transit, helping to manage congestion, reduce transportation costs, improve air quality and benefit public health.
We know that continued growth is only going to make getting around more of a challenge. This proposal creates a way to make more efficient use of the limited amount of road space available, and that’s one of the few ways to keep busy corridors like The Drag from descending into even worse gridlock. Of course, while improving the riding experience is a critical step to making public transportation easier and more convenient, this plan actually does even more than that.
Almost every transit rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian. Having a safe, comfortable and inviting walking and biking environment works hand in glove with improved transit service. The improvements to The Drag that make it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly will also pay many dividends, including making transit a more attractive option.
We applaud ATD for this plan and look forward to working with them to make it a reality. We also will continue working with the city to coordinate our efforts, so that the ongoing Project Connect study, which includes The Drag, is synced up with the city’s Corridor Construction Program. While it won’t be easy, advancing this and other actions that reduce our auto-dependency, and in turn help make walking, biking and using transit easier and more convenient, will provide many benefits for decades to come.
For more information, read the study for yourself. It concludes with this summary: “Due to the regional gridlock within the study area, there was no solution that could build the corridor out of congestion. Instead a paradigm shift needs to occur to evaluate movement of people as opposed to focusing on automobile traffic. Automobile traffic does not have additional capacity to grow along the corridor or in the area. Instead, increasing transit, bicycle, and pedestrian trips is going to be critical to move more people through the Guadalupe Street corridor.”