Taking the ‘Drag’ out of The Drag

GuadalupeEarlier 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. Continue reading “Taking the ‘Drag’ out of The Drag”

You’ve Asked … Here Are Our Answers

RevisionsYou’ve probably heard about the big changes we’re planning to put in place next June.

In fact, we know that you know about them because we’ve heard from a lot of you. And the great thing about receiving all that feedback is that it gives us a chance to make our proposal better.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common suggestions we’ve heard and our responses:

It’d really be great if Route 5 still served the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in the state complex near Lamar and 51st, can you make that happen?

Yes, we can, as a matter of fact. We had proposed to run Route 5 down Burnet and then Medical Parkway before turning to Lamar on 38th Street. Riders wanted to be able to access the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, and since we have other routes on Medical Parkway, we’ve agreed to change our proposal.

Speaking of Route 5, can you please keep it on Speedway? We’re used to that and like it the way it is.

That one, we can’t recommend. Not only does UT Shuttle Route 656 run on Speedway already, but frequent service would be available within a 5-minute walk on Duval (Route 7) and a 6-minute walk on Guadalupe (MetroRapid 801). The goal of these changes is to create a simple, efficient system that avoids route duplication. We also want to operate buses on major corridors for the most part, rather than neighborhood streets.

Farther north, you guys really need to keep service to the business park east of the Norwood Walmart, where the main post office is. Why are you trying to eliminate that route?

We’ve heard this one a lot, to be honest. That portion of the current Route 323 doesn’t have a whole lot of ridership, and that’s why we proposed to remove service. But enough of you have spoken out in favor of keeping service there that we are proposing to create the new Route 339 Tuscany. It would operate every 60 minutes starting from the Walmart, traveling through the Tuscany Business Park, past the H-E-B at Loyola and Springdale, before ending near the intersection of Tannehill and Webberville in East Austin.

None of these revisions we’re proposing can cause the plan to go over budget, however. And that means we would have to balance the costs of this new service by removing the proposed extension of Route 323 to Far West. Instead, the new proposal would end that route at Northcross Shopping Center, and Far West would be served by Route 19. Continue reading “You’ve Asked … Here Are Our Answers”

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!

Central_Library
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