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20150211 transitvslanduse


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Dissent from the "most of our transit problems are the city's fault" presentation made by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano to city council on 2/10/2015

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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20150211 transitvslanduse

  1. 1. It’s Not Land Use’s Fault: Cap Metro deserves most of the blame for declining transit ridership in Austin Created (quickly) by Mike Dahmus (Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005) as a dissent to Julio Gonzalez- Altamirano’s presentation to City Council’s Mobility Deep Dive on 2/10/2015.
  2. 2. • On 2/10/2015, your Mobility Deep Dive working group heard from Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano, representing AURA, a group with which I generally agree on most things, on the subject of mobility. • Julio focused mainly on public transportation (transit), which he, AURA, and I all agree has to be the main solution to our mobility crisis. • Julio’s thesis was, for the most part, that the majority of Capital Metro’s ridership problems (ridership stagnating or dropping despite higher population and more money) is due to city of Austin land use. • Again, a position with which I tend to agree in general terms. • Our ‘average’ land use even just inside the city limits is fairly bad when measured on how it could theoretically support good transit service. Introduction
  3. 3. From presentation by Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano to the Council at the Mobility Deep Dive, background links at “Providing transit-supportive density where productive bus frequency is already viable (or near- viability) should be a priority for their land use. I argued that even though the overall Austin and Central Texas story is one of growth, the core where there’s already the residential and employment density for bus productivity has pretty much had a static addressable transit rider market. Many of the census tracts in the core actually lost population as households without children replaced those raising children. The trend we actually need to see to support bus productivity is increases in working-age adults throughout the core, but even more aggressively so in parcels within walking distance of existing bus routes.”
  4. 4. From post by Chris Bradford (Austin Contrarian) in 2011 at population.html “As I noted, only three census tracts in 78704 (bounded by Town Lake, I 35, Ben White and the Barton Creek green belt) experienced growth. Most of the remaining tracts in west Central Austin -- the area bounded by 183, Town Lake, 360 & I-35 -- also lost population.”
  5. 5. But that’s not the whole story. Central Austin did lose population from 2000- 2010.
  6. 6. More from post by Chris Bradford (Austin Contrarian) in 2011 at population.html - emphasis (bold, italics) are mine “West Campus and the University of Texas also added large amounts of new housing and therefore population. A couple of tracts (yellow-green) saw only slight growth. The only other green tract -- i.e., the only other tract to see significant growth -- in west Central Austin is the tract that includes the Triangle, a large, dense (and controversial) infill project. Other infill projects were scattered through this area, though, including in census tracts that lost population. It's worth speculating whether we would be seeing steep population declines without this infill development. I should add, though, that in a handful of cases, old apartment complexes were torn down and not yet redeveloped. The Stoneridge Apartments on South Lamar were demolished in 2007 or 2008; construction on their (denser) replacements began just last week..”
  7. 7. • From 2000-2010, neighborhoods in the core did mostly lose population, with a few exceptions • Primary among the exceptions: The Triangle (directly ON the highest ridership transit corridor in the city). • At the time that census data was released, VMU construction was just beginning to have an impact on local population. • Since then, many more VMU developments on our two best core transit corridors have been completed, are under construction, and continue to be planned.
  8. 8. So what did Capital Metro do? • Remember, Julio said that “Providing transit-supportive density where productive bus frequency is already viable (or near-viability) should be a priority for their land use.”. • The city did that on these two core transit corridors. We’re adding thousands of people who self-select to live on major transit corridors, to replace those lost by shrinking household size on the neighborhood interiors. • What changes has Capital Metro made to support and enhance ridership here?
  9. 9. Time to go general (vague) for a bit • The next few slides will go into the fundamental challenges with express vs. local service. Bear with me.
  10. 10. Imagine a local bus line running at high frequencies. Each green dot represents a bus stop (you walk to, or in some cases transfer to). The buildings at the right represent your final destination.
  11. 11. These gradient circles represent how long it takes to walk to these circles. The lighter the color, the quicker the walk. Imagine the circle as the typical ¼ mile transit walking radius (people outside ¼ mile are much less likely to be willing to walk to a local bus stop).
  12. 12. Now imagine your local transit system adds express service at the red icons. Service from both local and express is still available at red icons; local only at green icons. Frequency is maintained on the existing local line. The express service is a little quicker than the local service – if you ride from the far end to the CBD, it saves 10 minutes of actual bus time.
  13. 13. It takes extra time for most people to walk to the red icons if they were previously walking to the green icons but decided to switch to the red icons to ride the express. That extra time increases the further away they are from the red icon (obviously).
  14. 14. The ‘extra walk time’ for the red icons does not vary based on how far away you are from the CBD. The only variable that affects how long it takes you to walk to the red icon is how far away you are from it (how far your bus stop moved if you want to take the express service, i.e.)
  15. 15. The ramps on top show how much ‘extra’ time somebody has to spend to get to one of those red icons compared to the green icon they would otherwise be closest to. Halfway in between a new “express + local” and the closest “local only” stop is where the walking time starts to be ‘extra’ on average. Also note that the extra walk time applies to the destination too (if your destination is on a “local only” stop, you get to add an ‘extra walk’ on that end too).
  16. 16. The bars on the bottom show how much ‘bus time’ you save if you board an express at a red stop instead of a local at a red stop (remember the red stops are served by both expresses and locals). Remember that the time saved ‘on the bus’ grows the further away you get from the core (the longer you spend on the faster bus).
  17. 17. Remember, the red ramps on the top are ‘extra walk time’, and I’m being really generous here by assuming the destination is on a place served by an express stop (which is not always the case). In other words, I’m understating the red ramps by up to 50%.
  18. 18. Now let’s expand and bring those two things together. I’ve turned the green bars into stair-stepped squares indicating how much ‘bus time’ you save by going to the closest red icon (this is simplified by assuming you always walk to the closest express stop). I’ve made the red ramps half transparent so you can see the green behind it, where applicable.
  19. 19. But what do the combinations of shapes tell us? Let’s zoom in on the left first and point out some facts.
  20. 20. A far-out section of our bus line At the farthest stop (the one that the express now serves), we save a lot of time! No extra walk, lots of bus savings.
  21. 21. A far-out section of our bus line At the next local stop (not served by express), we still save a lot of time! Small extra walk, lots of bus savings.
  22. 22. A far-out section of our bus line Halfway in between the two new express stops, the extra walk peaks, but the time savings on the bus are still worth it.
  23. 23. A far-out section of our bus line Even at the next express stop and beyond, we still save enough time ‘on the bus’ to make up for the extra walk at its worst.
  24. 24. But what about closer in? At this common stop, no extra walk means you save some time (not much on the bus, but better than nothing).
  25. 25. But what about closer in? Things quickly get worse though. The people who used to take the middle local between the first two expresses are actually WORSE off taking an express. Their extra walk time doubles or triples the saved ‘on bus’ time!
  26. 26. But what about closer in? And the people who are currently boarding at the locals closest in before we hit the CBD? They’re just completely screwed. The express would be MUCH slower.
  27. 27. So what? So time savings accrue the most to those further out. Who cares? The locals are still around to serve the people closest in, right?
  28. 28. Nope. Our local transit agency decided to cut local frequency by 50% at the same time they increased express frequency on a route very much like the hypothetical I just diagrammed. See: RAPID BUS HAS DEGRADED BUS SERVICE OVERALL – from on 9/5/2014.
  29. 29. We lost ridership on our best transit corridor! • “After Ridership Drops, Cap Metro Looking to Tweak Rapid Bus System” – KUT, 8/25/2014 • “The rapid buses, however, started on time and under budget. But six months after the launch of the first rapid line, ridership in its corridor is down 16 percent from two years ago during the same period.” • “On top of higher fares with the introduction of rapid buses, existing local bus lines had their frequency cut in half – on the lines with highest ridership in the city, the 1L and the 1M. These were combined into one route, now called the 1. The 801 rapid bus was supposed to siphon off more of those riders than it has. Capital Metro's stated goal of a ten percent increase in ridership in the corridor within two years will now need to be even higher to make up the difference in lost riders: to meet their goals, ridership will need to go up twenty-five percent in the corridor by January 2016”. • “Another aspect of the rapid bus service that impacted regular riders is that the rapid stops are placed further apart, separate from the local bus lines. Transit advocates predicted these factors would cause ridership to go down, and they were proven right”.
  30. 30. Well, there’s always winners and losers, right? Sure, although try telling our local transit agency that anybody lost on this. But the biggest problem hasn’t even been shown yet. Let’s go back to one of the earlier slides…
  31. 31. Here’s our route map again. Now imagine that our local government has enacted a new ordinance that encourages denser, vertically-mixed-use, development along major transit corridors, and the market has begun to respond with such development. Where do you think that development is going to occur first?
  32. 32. That’s right, it occurs closest to the core first. There has actually been no interest in VMU further out than about ‘halfway’ to the north. And honestly, nobody is impressed enough by express bus service to bother locating near it – so the development occurs when parcels are available with the only bias being one towards lower distance from the CBD. Demand for new VMU development
  33. 33. This isn’t hypothetical. If we consider this line as the 1/801 line on Guadalupe and Lamar, this is the rough residential density profile. Density that existed before a couple of years ago is green; activity and interest since the VMU ordinance is blue. Demand for new VMU development Existing residential density
  34. 34. Now take a look at a summary of the service profile results with this development profile. Existing residential density Demand for new VMU development
  35. 35. Simplified and enlarged the top. Note that right in the area where VMU activity is concentrated, a lot of people are going to be worse off once you cut locals and replace them with more expresses. Existing residential density Demand for new VMU development
  36. 36. So is it just this one corridor? No. Burnet Road has most of its VMU activity concentrated south of 2222, where travel time improvements on the new 803 are relatively small (their locals were cut from 20 minute headways at peak to ~40 minutes). And South Lamar is the same as Burnet. Most VMU activity is close in; most travel time savings are further out. Locals cut in half. South Congress, too; same as Guadalupe/Lamar. 801 doubles the 101 frequency; 1 frequency cut from 15 minutes headway at peak to 30 minutes.
  37. 37. So is it honest to blame the city for this? • The city’s VMU plans predate the imposition of the local service cuts. Capital Metro knew VMU development was coming. • Essentially all of the observed population decline on the interior of center- city neighborhoods is already or will soon be overwhelmed by the increase in population directly on these corridors. • The population directly on these corridors living in VMU or otherwise are much more likely, all else being equal, to be transit riders than the interior neighborhood residents are. Thus, to point to population decline on the interior as an excuse for ridership stagnation (and even drop) is disingenuous. • In other words, more potential riders exist now on these corridors than in 2000; and it should be easier now to get the median resident in the area to ride the bus.
  38. 38. So the city did their job in creating transit- supportive density. Then, Capital Metro cut the usefulness of the transit service to the tracts with the best land use.
  39. 39. Results? • Ridership decline on our best corridor despite growth in the number of people who could be expected to take transit on this corridor. • Overall system stagnation despite higher funding and population growth. • The two best corridors should have made up for ridership drops due to population loss on the interior of core neighborhoods. By their own standards, Capital Metro should have increased, not decreased, local frequency on Guadalupe/Lamar/Congress. • Capital Metro refuses to even discuss fixing the problem. • New proposal ignores the well-known #1 issues and pretends that other locals will form a new ‘frequent service network’ along with the #801 and #803 but ignores fare-incompatibility problem.
  40. 40. What can you do? • Capital Metro gets the majority of their money from the local sales tax, and the vast majority of that tax money comes from the City of Austin. • 2 members of Capital Metro’s board are appointed by the City of Austin. • Austin should demand more from the money our citizens give Capital Metro. • Why isn’t the city telling Capital Metro what to do?
  41. 41. Questions and sources • Email me at I’d love to discuss this topic with any of you. • - Mike Dahmus, “M1EK’s Bake-Sale of Bile” • - Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano, “Keep Austin Wonky" • - Chris Bradford, “Austin Contrarian” • - various, “KUT News”