Sharing the rail

The following article by Brooke Pimentel appeared in Southwest Cycling News (Vol. XXI, No. 1, Jan/Feb 2011, page 1), a publication of the Austin Cycling Association. It is reprinted here with permission from the writer and the publication.

Sharing the rail

By Brooke Pimentel

Brooke Pimentel ready to board at the Crestview Station. (photo by Cory Werner)

I remember when we found out bicycles were going to be allowed on MetroRail. My boyfriend and I anticipated the upcoming rail system with curiosity, but this news pushed curiosity into true excitement. Kudos, MetroRail, for embracing bicyclists from the beginning.

Before MetroRail began running, we often walked along the railroad tracks near our house. It was one of our long routes for walking the dogs late at night when there were no trains and our only company was the skunks. (Tip: There are a lot of skunks in the fields near Crestview Station. And skunk smell does not go away easily, my friends.) During our walks we talked about all the fun things we could do, bringing our bikes along on MetroRail and exploring parts of the city too far away for bicycle exploring before MetroRail. Anticipation was high.

Meanwhile, I changed jobs, and so my commute also changed — from two miles one way to six miles one way. Going from biking 16 or so miles each week to biking 48 miles was daunting. I’m a baker/pastry chef; working in a kitchen is manual labor, which adds more physical exertion to my day. But I love riding my bike to work, not to mention that trying to find parking downtown is akin to torture for me. I realized that MetroRail was a perfect solution; I’d take MetroRail one way and still be able to ride my bike one way without exhausting myself senseless. I was stoked.  Continue reading “Sharing the rail”

Shorten your (single occupancy) commute; catch a bus at Tech Ridge Park & Ride

Northeast Travis County residents will have improved access to Tech Ridge Park & Ride when newly constructed segments of Heatherwilde and Wells Branch open this week. Both Travis County roadways will include sidewalks and bike lanes.

Tech Ridge Park & Ride serves as the northern terminus for routes serving the busy North Lamar/South Congress corridor (#1L/1M and #101), East Austin (#135), and UT/Downtown (#935). It also facilitates many transfers as the endpoint for Routes #243 Wells Branch and #392 Braker.

Tech Ridge P&R route map
Community Impact article

No buses on shoulders for you

So my last blog post related to the legislative session prematurely said, “Overall, we achieved much of what was in our legislative agenda: bus-only shoulders,” blah, blah, blah among other things. Yippee! Well, so foolish I am. I spoke too soon for I forgot about that last, not-so-little step called consideration by the governor. And unfortunately, one of our bills was vetoed. Yep, V-E-T-O. No buses on shoulders for you!

If you recall, Senate Bill 434, carried by two of our own: Senator Jeff Wentworth and Representative Valinda Bolton, would have created a pilot program under which Capital Metro (and only three other Texas transit agencies) would have been allowed to operate buses on pre-approved sections of highway shoulders in order to bypass traffic congestion.

The bill was very cautious in setting up the program. It would have been established by TxDOT and in conjunction with DPS and the involved transit agencies. The bill required TxDOT to consider safety, travel time reliability, driver and passenger perceptions, level of service and maintenance, and capital improvements.

Additionally, other specific parameters were also spelled out. Buses would only be allowed to travel on sections of highway shoulders that TxDOT approved in advance and the sections would be clearly marked for bus-only use. Speed limits were set based on the experience of several other communities in America, which have already implemented bus-only shoulders safely and effectively for over a decade. Buses would only be allowed to use the designated sections of highway shoulders when overall traffic slowed to 35 miles per hour or less, and the bus could only travel at 15 miles per hour greater than the prevailing traffic, with the maximum bus speed still limited to 35 mph. The bus operator would not be required to use the bus-only shoulder if he/she did not feel it was safe.

Despite a number of independent safety studies attesting to the positive experience in the rest of the country (the State of Minnesota has over 300 miles of bus-only shoulders), Governor Perry was not willing to sign the bill. In his veto statement, he cited a concern that use of the highway shoulders by transit buses “would leave no emergency lane, creating a danger to motorists, emergency personnel and passengers aboard transit buses,” though we assured him that we would work with the City of Austin to ensure that the use of highway shoulders by our buses would not impede emergency vehicle passage. (Many thanks to the City, specifically Karla Villalon and Rob Spillar, for having included this in their legislative agenda and for having written a last-minute letter to the governor asking for his support.)

Though we are very disappointed with the veto—it’s the second time we’ve tried to get this passed—we’ll work with the governor’s office over the next few years to see if we can get it through next session. Perhaps then, the third time will actually be the charm for Capital Metro.

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While the legislative order of things escaped me regarding the bus-only shoulder legislation, the other items I had written about previously actually panned out as I described. Senate Bill 1263, the bill carried by Senator Kirk Watson and Representative Eddie Rodriguez that prescribed a number of changes for Capital Metro, was signed by the governor. That bill, which goes into effect September 1, makes changes to our board composition and our abilities to set our own fares and operate passenger rail, and provides us with some new tools that we’ll need to operate passenger rail. Governor Perry was also willing to sign the bill that lets Capital Metro (and all Texas transit agencies) use the State’s travel discounts when our employees or board members travel for Capital Metro-related duties. (Thank you Senator Duell and Representative Todd Smith!)

If you want more details on the Watson and Rodriguez bill, or any other legislation that I might have written about before, read my previous gobbledygook online at http://capmetroblog.blogspot.com/search/label/legislative%20agenda. (Check out the gobbledygook hotlink! A fun story, which goodness knows we all need more of.)