Life in the Fast Lane: Fixed-Guideway Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail

In a recent post, A Tale of Two Modes, we discussed why gondolas and heavy rail aren’t being considered for future high-capacity transit service as part of Project Connect’s regional transit system plan.

Now, we want to talk about two types of transit we ARE considering for Project Connect.

“What is Fixed-Guideway Bus Rapid Transit?”

A step up from Capital Metro’s MetroRapid service, Fixed-guideway Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is designed to operate much like a rail service, travelling in its own lanes and providing frequent service – every 10-30 minutes. It’s faster than traditional and rapid bus service both because the stops are placed approximately ½ to 2 miles apart, so it makes fewer stops, and because it operates in dedicated lanes, uninterrupted by other traffic. Yes, you read that right: No getting stuck in traffic! Because fixed-guideway BRT moves a lot of people, at a greater frequency in its own lanes, it is considered a high-capacity transit mode.International standards are different and designate bronze, silver or gold status to a BRT service depending on the percentage of the dedicated lane it uses.

HealthLine-Cleveland
International standards are different and designate bronze, silver or gold status to a BRT service depending on the percentage of the dedicated lane it uses. Cleveland’s Healthline is the highest-rated BRT in the U.S. according to international standards. (photo courtesy of nacto.org)

To develop this type of service, however, Capital Metro must first secure right-of-way to locate and install the definitive dedicated lanes. What seems simple – changing a lane of an existing road into a dedicated transit lane – takes more than just a new coat of paint. Just as we did to construct transit-priority lanes for MetroRapid, Capital Metro would need to work with regional transportation partners like the city of Austin and TxDOT to develop inter-agency plans to secure the right-of-way, all while ensuring that other forms of transportation still have safe and efficient use of surrounding lanes.

Fixed-guideway BRT stations can be designed and built to include safe drop-off/pickup and waiting zones for riders. Stations on major roadways can be built above road-level.

“Why are you considering Fixed-guideway BRT instead of Light Rail?”

A lot of you want to see Capital Metro add sleek, innovative modes to its transit mix and feel that BRT buses don’t fit the bill.

Fixed-guideway BRT and Light Rail share some of the same qualities: Both operate in dedicated lanes, connect local activity centers and feature stops approximately ½ to 2 miles apart.

While BRT buses are flexible and can easily travel on winding roadways, light rail trains demand straighter tracking. Other key differences are the building and maintenance costs. Light rail requires performing major excavation, building an electrified track, having a constant electrical supply, constructing sub-stations, installing overhead wires and buying and maintaining more expensive vehicles. Cha-ching! Fixed-guideway BRT is a lot less expensive.

Green Line UtahTransit Authority TRAX
Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX Green Line train at Gallivan Plaza. (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Even so, light rail can carry many more passengers than BRT. So, if all the required resources are available – the corridor has enough demand (read: LOTS of people in densely developed areas) and is a “straight shot” between activity centers, land can be dedicated and converted to tracking, electricity is in constant supply, ample funding is available and the public has voted to support the project (see Texas Transportation Code Section 451.3625) – light rail can be part of Project Connect’s regional high-capacity transit system.

The bottom line: The Project Connect team is considering fixed-guideway BRT and light rail where appropriate.

Try Transit to Get to the Central Library Grand Opening!

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Rendering from Austin Public Library

Have you seen the pictures? Have you read about all the featured attractions?

Austin’s about to get a brand new Central Library and it looks fantastic. It’s gonna have a million things on offer:

  • Reading porches that overlook Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake
  • A central atrium
  • A rooftop garden
  • Something called a Tech Petting Zoo
  • A “37-foot-tall kinetic sculpture that resembles a cuckoo clock with a swinging pendulum”!
  • Also, it’s got books. Literal stacks on stacks of books.

I mean … it sounds great, right?

And you’ll be able to see it for the first time on Saturday, Oct. 28 at the grand opening. That is, if you can get down there. You know, with the traffic and the parking and the headaches. That’s where Cap Metro comes in.

We’re providing free Park & Ride services from 5 Austin Public Library locations for the grand opening, giving you the chance to avoid the hassle and fees that come with trying to get (and park) downtown. From noon to 5 p.m., you can park at any of the 5 library locations listed below, go inside to request your free Local Day Pass and then hop on the bus downtown. Cap Metro staff will be down there to help guide you to the new Central Library.

YOU MUST REGISTER FOR YOUR FREE RIDE AT ONE OF THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS:

  1. Carver Branch | 1161 Angelina Street | Routes 2, 6
  2. Little Walnut Creek Branch | 835 West Rundberg Lane | Routes 1, 801
  3. Pleasant Hill Branch | 211 East William Cannon Drive | Routes 1, 801
  4. Recycled Reads Bookstore | 5335 Burnet Road | Routes 3, 803
  5. Ruiz Branch | 1600 Grove Boulevard | Route 20

To plan your trip to the grand opening (or anywhere else), visit capmetro.org/planner.

Project Connect’s Got Game

20170824_182742Talking about transit planning and regional public policy works better in a place that serves beer and great food. That’s why Capital Metro took to Scholz Biergarten last month to sponsor Project Connect’s Game Night.

Hosted with Glasshouse Policy, the event was designed to get people thinking about transit planning and the future of Central Texas transportation with all the limitations imposed by the real world. This can be difficult for a few different reason:

  1. Because the circle of people interested in transit planning is already pretty small.
  2. Because the people who are interested in transit planning tend to be firm in their opinions.
  3. Because sometimes those opinions don’t fully take into account all the real-world factors that professional transit planners deal with.
  4. Because sometimes those opinions conflict in ways that are hard and even impossible to reconcile.
  5. Because, really, it can be tough to find people interested in coming out on a Thursday night to talk transit planning.

So, you can see the dilemma. That’s why we bring folks to a beer garden and combine our planners’ expertise with the experience and crowd-pleasing skills of Glasshouse Policy. It was fun!20170905_110211_resized

The idea was to give people a real-world situation, throw some complicating factors at them and then have them design a transit solution. Like say, you’ve got a fast-growing medium-sized city with a traffic problem and an affordability problem that’s pushing lower-income residents further out of the central core. But those people still need to commute into the city for work. Add in an entrenched car culture, small but passionate fans of various forms of transit and a growing reluctance to approve bond elections. And you have to work within a budget.

But make it fun!

20170824_185415_resizedThe participants were given their instructions and the advice to play rounds of the game in a couple different ways:

  • First, implement a transit project you’re truly interested in (light rail, streetcars, rocket ships, whathaveyou).
  • But then the second time you play, go in a different direction. So, if you’re a light-rail-down-Lamar-and-Guadalupe true believer, try bus rapid transit or streetcars instead.

The intent was to make the players understand the complications inherent in the process and to see the possibilities available when you’re more flexible. In essence, to give these armchair planners a glimpse into the life of professional planners. (But make it fun!)

20170905_110029_resized2And it worked. The crowds came out and had a good time. About 60 people showed up, playing on 11 teams of 2 to 6 players each. The winners worked with their $1.1 billion budget and built three lines that were judged on their capacity to carry riders, frequency of service and ability to sustain operations for the long term.

It really was a good time, and the Capital Metro team has plans to bring it out to neighborhood events over the coming months to give more people a chance to play. Be sure to check ProjectConnect.com to find out where and when.

Cap Metro to Take Comment on Budget

Spending

We at Capital Metro take seriously our mission to be open, honest and trustworthy stewards of the public’s money. 54.1 percent of our annual budget comes from our cut of the sales tax, and we’re aware that the public has the right to know what we plan to do.

Part of that effort to be transparent in every way we can is to post online our budgets for each of the past 10 years and next year’s proposed budget, too. The Fiscal Year 2018 budget will go before our board of directors on September 29, and we’re offering the public a number of chances to learn about it and offer comment. In addition to four public meetings (two in person and two online), there will be a public hearing before the board on Thursday at lunchtime. (We’ll also present about the minor changes that would go into effect in January 2018 should the board approve them.)

See below for the dates and locations of the all the meetings:

Monday, September 11

5-6 p.m.

Old Quarry Branch Library

7051 Village Center Drive

Served by Routes 19, 320, 661, 681

Tuesday, September 12

Noon-12:30 p.m.

Webinar

5-6 p.m.

Pleasant Hill Branch Library

211 E. William Cannon

Served by Routes 1, 201, 333, 801

Wednesday, September 13

5:00 – 5:30 p.m.

Webinar

Thursday, September 14

Noon-12:30 p.m.

Public Hearing

2910 E. 5th Street

Served by Routes 17, 300

Friday, September 29

Noon

Board vote

2910 E. 5th Street

Served by Routes 17, 300

‘Traffic Jam! A La Mode’ Serves Up a Project Connect Transit Mode Talk

Picture1In the spring, the Project Connect team surveyed people about where they wanted to see future high-capacity transit services. Now the team is engaging the community in the second phase of the planning initiative — examining which types of high-capacity transit would best fit each location. Continue reading “‘Traffic Jam! A La Mode’ Serves Up a Project Connect Transit Mode Talk”

Connections 2025: Routes 383 & 392 Update

c2025-logo

Long-term planning can be tricky, because it requires balancing the needs of multiple constituencies that change and evolve over time. This isn’t the case just in transit of course, but it’s something we run into all the time. The most recent example is our Connections 2025 Transit Plan, which has seen changes to some of the proposals that were included in the approved plan. That’s common with bus network redesigns.

We wanted to share with the community one of these changes, since we’ve heard concerns regarding the potential elimination of service on Route 392 north of Braker in Northeast Austin.

What was the original proposal? The approved Connections 2025 plan proposed combining Routes 383 and 392 into an east-west route operating from Lakeline Mall along Jollyville Rd. and Braker Ln. to Dessau Rd. Buses were proposed to operate every 30 minutes instead of every 35 – 40 minutes. Route 383 would no longer serve the North Lamar Transit Center, and the area north of Braker served by Route 392 would be modified into a Mobility Innovation Zone.

What is a Mobility Innovation Zone? Mobility Innovation Zones are areas where Capital Metro wants to look into mobility options other than a 40-foot bus by using various pilot projects.  That’s because the land use and road network in these parts of town make it very difficult to provide cost-effective service with a big bus. The pilot projects would likely leverage emerging technology and transportation options, whether that’s an on-demand service like Pickup , flex routes, partnerships with TNCs or something else, we’re not sure. Because these technologies and tools are emerging, we’re still exploring how the pilots would function. Staff will be taking the next 12 months to develop the pilot projects with community input before requesting board approval. When approving Connections 2025, the board instructed staff that fixed-route service north of Dessau must be retained until the Mobility Innovation Zone pilot projects have been developed.

How has the proposal been modified? In keeping with the board’s directive to maintain fixed-route service, the proposed Route 383 would travel from Lakeline Station along Jollyville Rd. and Braker Ln. When the bus reaches Dessau, it will travel along Dessau, Shropshire, Thompkins, Yeager and Parmer before ending at the Tech Ridge Park & Ride. This proposed service would operate every 30 minutes and remain in place until a Mobility Innovation Zone pilot project is ready for implementation sometime in 2019.

What’s next?  As with any Connections 2025 proposal, this modification will require public outreach and board approval before it can be implemented. We will seek public comment this fall and ask board of directors to vote on the changes toward the end of the year. Changes would be implemented in June 2018. More information about all the upcoming changes and ways to provide feedback will be available shortly after Labor Day.