Progress on Austin Urban Rail?

Looks like Austin might be just a little bit closer to voting on the City's urban rail project, which unlike MetroRail, will actually garner ridership, as it connects three of the main employment centers in Austin: UT, the Capitol, and Downtown, with some of the northern inner-city neighborhoods. And that's just in the first phase.

"A Long Route to Go" - Austin Chronicle

If it ever gets completed, the urban rail project could encourage more and better development in the actual livable center of Austin, making its claims to being "green" more legitimate, and fostering more of a sense of place in central Austin. And the fact that they're looking at alternatives to the horrible routing along San Jacinto near UT and the Capitol seems to be a good sign.


Austin Urban Rail System Map

Just a drawing-out of the proposed Austin Urban Rail System, a streetcar/LRT hybrid that the City is thinking about since CapMetro went through with the MetroRail boondoggle.

View austin urban rail in a larger map


Portland Opens the Green Line

Map by The Transport Politic

Portland, that transit Valhalla, opens its newest light rail line today, the Green Line, which connects northern Clackamas County to downtown Portland, and adds a new North-South Transit Mall (with a re-routed , to compliment and alleviate traffic off of the original East-West Transit Mall. It's been in the works for near 35 years now, as the Portland Tribune writes in this article:

"The Interstate 205 MAX line – the latest addition to the Portland region’s ever-expanding light-rail system – sometimes appeared to be the project that would never happen."



It's almost like Austin's current MetroRail boondoggle, but instead of years of planning and rejection ending up in a unusable mish-mash of light and commuter rail, Portland went on with other projects, including the Red Line to the PDX Airport, and the Yellow Line up Interstate Ave., not to mention their superb streetcar endeavor.

But it is similar in that a suburban minority held back the project for everyone that could benefit from it; in this case, it was state and regional voters, including those in Vancouver, WA that rejected TriMet's requests for money, not suburban voters totally rejecting any idea of rail as in Austin.

"State and regional voters rejected funding for a line from Vancouver to the Clackamas Town Center through Portland and Milwaukie in the 1990s, forcing TriMet to find other sources of money"

So they succeeded by instead only building the section to Clackamas County, not the northern section into Washington (though that is eventually planned to be built). This, along with the recent Seattle Link LRT opening just go to show how behind in the game Austin is as far as transit. Everyone knows, CapMetro works nothing like TriMet, which of course has its flaws, but at least is competent, and with the assistance of the Metro government, has produced some truly inspirational transit projects. CapMetro has done nothing of the sort, which is why the City of Austin's separate urban rail project needs to be pushed through and worked out succesfully, so that Austin can have real rail transit like Portland.

Rural Bus Stop Concept

Found this while hunting through the web of transit-agency pages for the Austin area, CARTS, the rural transit provide, who also provides commuter service and city bus services to San Marcos and Buda, has this idea for improving it's rural bus routes.

Really interesting idea to make it nicer and safer to ride their rural routes. One could dream of eventually a system of rural routes connecting small towns to each other and to Austin, with these as their stops. Like I said...dream...

CARTS Rural Bus Stop


Bus Odd-yssey to SoCo

Left for Guadalupe Mountains this morning, I'll try to autopost articles over the next few days, until I get back on Tuesday.

Anyways, a couple weeks ago I went on a bus odyssey, as I like to call them, with a friend; plans were to take the 983 express from Lakeline P&R in NW Austin downtown, and then transfer to the 1L/1M, which goes across the river, and get off on South Congress and wander around. But that didn't happen. We botched meeting up; she got on the northbound right as I arrived, and so had to get off at an unplanned stop, and we missed the southbound.

Our route:

View Trip to SoCo in a larger map

Still determined to take the bus, we drove down to Pavilion P&R to catch the 983 southbound there. It wasn't there yet when we arrived. So we hopped on the 392 eastbound to take all the way to N. Lamar, and there hop onto the 1L southbound all the way to South Congress. Which we did. And it took more than an hour just on the 1L, since it's an all-stops workhorse route, one of the reasons I love riding it. You can do some awesome people-watching on that bus. People from all walks of life ride it: homeless people, day-laborers, wage-earners, businesspeople working downtown, college students, teens...

(Photo by chix0rgirl on Flickr)

We got off near Guero's Taco Bar, which is more or less the northern end of what's truly the little Main Street that is South Congress. The storefronts look more like they belong in some small town in the Hill Country than a state capital. That is except for the crazy paint-jobs and signs.

South Congress Ave:

There's places like Uncommon Objects, a sort've hipster version of a thrift store/flea market with awesome vintage stuff (it really spans all definitions of "stuff", too!), Tesoro's Trading Co., a market-like store that sells goods from all over the world, mainly Latin America, Africa and Asia, and cool, hole-in-the wall record stores that only sell vinyl: Friends of Sound (all of which we went to, ate at Homeslice Pizza, across from Guero's). There's something to whet almost anyone's whistle! It's an amazing place, right next to the lucky kids at St. Ed's too. Didn't do much other than scratch the surface.

West Campus (UT):

We had to wait forever to board the 1L north at the south end of the strip, especially since we had chosen to try and board at a stop that the limited-stop 101 skipped. We took that up to West Campus (of UT), where my friend got off to meet family, and I boarded (wrongly) the 987 express north, wrong because it skipped Pavilion P&R on it's way north, where I had parked. So then I had to get off at Northwest P&R, and wait for the southbound 383; 30 minutes of doing nothing, as there's nothing around the P&R. Then another 30 minutes of wandering around the suburbs in a bus before we made it back to Pavilion. I was so tired, and glad to see my car.


Thoughts On Portland

What always seems to get lost in the discussion about Portland's streetcar system is that not all of it runs through dense, urban, massively successful redevelopment like South Waterfront or Pearl District, or already existing dense neighborhoods such as Downtown and Portland State; some of it runs through leafy, almost suburban neighborhoods (now note, these aren't Sunbelt-suburban, more like dense suburbs that developed around turn of the century transit lines).

View Larger Map

Like here, at NW Northrup & 21st Ave:

NW Northrup St. & 21st Ave.

Approaching Streetcar

It seems to fit in rather well with the streetscape, too. And whenever I rode it, the streetcar never had problems with car traffic, other than a lack of signal pre-emption, which could be fixed. Every time I rode, too, the cars were all 60-90% full, no matter whether it was 11AM or 9PM.

Now, noted, this was close to Nob hill, which is one of the trendier neighborhoods, so that could've accounted for some of the traffic, but ridership seemed a mix of young and old, tourist and natives.

I think neighborhoods like this could be something to aim for in Austin, which has lots more leafy suburbs with slightly built up commercial areas, than old industrial districts to totally renovate with art galleries and trendy lofts. In fact, the area reminds me most of Austin's Hyde Park, which was at one time a streetcar suburb, and it seems would benefit from reestablishment of a transit line.


Never Ridden the 3, Yet

I've heard of Light Rail Pub Crawls before (see Phoenix, AZ: here), but never bus pub crawls, especially not in Texas, and not Austin. Not a reason for me to ride the 3 (I'm more of a 1L guy), but if I see a lot of drunks on it whenever I do ride, I'll know why!

The No.3 Bus Pub Crawl - Austin Chronicle

(Photo by John Anderson)

Austin Urban Development Round-Up

Decided to actually rise from the blogging "grave" today, and post some things.

Browsing through the news-stand today, and there's several significant Austin development-related articles out there, especially for dense, more urban development.

Apparently a transit-oriented development of a kind is still in the works up in Cedar Park, one of the last segments of Avery Park to be built out. Gary Newman, the president of land development for Waterstone, the developer, says they're looking at making a development similar to the Mueller community in central Austin, with a mix of townhomes, condos, and varieties of single-family housing, with some retail incorporated, too, though they don't expand into specifics.

They're banking on the MetroRail Red Line to allow for this denser development. Plans are to break ground by as early as the 2nd Quarter of 2010. Seems like just the kind of development the northern suburbs need; something denser, much more of a proper place for this kind of development than Mueller.

Developer plans two subdivisions near Avery Ranch - Community Impact

(Community Impact)

As well, a planned development on East Riverside seems to be raising the ire of Town Lake NIMBYs but getting props from everyone else, including affordable housing advocates, with city council members not decided how they're going to vote on whether to grant the developer an exception to the height-limit rules on lands fronting Town Lake.

Doesn't seem like the Save Town Lake NIMBYs have much footing here in opposition, other than that granting Grayco, the developer, height exceptions to build 90ft. tall units in the core of the development, instead of the mandated 60ft. Of course, what they really need to understand is that the best way to preserve and keep up the Town Lake waterfront is not to keep it as an isolated park, but to integrate it into the fabric of an urban community. And that to do that, there's going to have to be density; 90ft. buildings are really not that tall. Especially when Grayco is providing for 60 affordable-housing units; the Statesman even quotes an affordable-housing advocate as saying they're all for the project. It's definitely better than the suburban-like sprawl that inhabits that part of E. Riverside.

(artist's rendering, Pat Lopez)

Currently, no city council member has come out and said how they'll vote Thursday, but we can hope that they'll understand that allowing this development to go as planned will be a big boon to Town Lake and to Austin.

Fight brewing over East Riverside development - Austin American Statesman


Back from a Second Trip to Oregon

...and am trapped drawing fantasy transit maps for Austin still. Need to do more writing of depth, about Austin and its urban environment versus other cities, etc.

This is also where people could suggest thins for me to write about?... :-)


Austin Subway Fantasy Map

After some other comments, came up with a freelance Austin subway map. Pretty fantasy stuff.

View Austin Subway Fantasy in a larger map

What do ya think?


What Austin Could Look Like Part II... Crestview Station

View Larger Map

Airport at Lamar, that's where Austin's first attempt at Transit-Oriented Development is supposed to be built. Well, apparently the proper intersection is Lamar at Justin, but who knows of Justin Ln., outside of the Brentwood and Crestview neighborhoods?

(artist's rendering)

It's to be called Midtown Commons at Crestview, a 73-acre site in total, being completed in phases, consisting of 900 apartments and 64,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. Its just two miles north of UT, four north of downtown; currently, it has greater bus access than the Triangle, with five bus lines down Lamar next to it: the local 1, the limited 101 and crosstown routes 300, 320, and 350. Going north or south on Lamar, bus frequencies are still less than 7 minutes on weekdays, similar to the Triangle, but with additional service every 10 minutes to East Austin, every and every 30 to Northcross and Highland Malls, as well as down I35. It's 15 minutes from UT, and 20 minutes from Downtown.

Don't want to plug this realtor or anything, but a cool look around Crestview Station:

Along with Airport and Lamar, the City of Austin designated five other areas as TOD Districts in the city, along the Red Line. Each of these district groups the land involved into five different categories, TOD mixed-use, corridor mixed-use, live/work flats, high-density apartments, and medium-density apartments, in descending density.

One of the more curious things will be to see how the existence of this TOD development effects the suburban neighborhoods around it. Crestview, to the northwest, is one of the first post-war suburbs of the city, and for a while existed as an old-timey place to live; in a time-warp of sorts. As well, right across Lamar from the TOD is Highland, which has been going downhill for the last several years, as more and more stores leave Highland Mall, Austin's grande dame of the malls. TOD is almost diametrically opposed to the style and set of ideas that gave rise to both these auto-centric neighborhoods, and the mall that was their centerpiece.

Can this TOD create a new center for the communities in the area, a more urban one?

Austin Chronicle - TOD in Crestview (2006)

Next...consequences of commuter rail? A first-hand look at TOD in Austin?


What Austin Could Look Like? Part I

Dense, walkable development in Austin, outside of Downtown, UT, and SoCo, is a rare bird indeed. Unlike cities such as Portland, Oregon, and even Dallas, Austin hasn't had a rail transit infrastructure extant to provide a stimuli to densify or create greenfield New Urbanist developments. However, it new walkable developments exist, and in some of the oddest places, too.

Streetcar Lofts, Pearl District, Portland, Oregon:

(SP8254 on Flickr)

The Triangle is one of the most obvious dense developments in North Austin, and one of the best, is purposely designed to be pedestrian-focused, located in the triangle formed by the confluence of Guadalupe and Lamar, two of the main corridors in North Austin. Guadalupe-Lamar is also the main transit corridor in Austin, being the route of both the local 1 and the limited 101 bus lines, which provide approximately 7 minute headways at the Triangle. (bus schedule Triangle P&R)

View Larger Map

Along with this fact, the Triangle is only about 10 minutes travel time from UT-Austin and 20 minutes from downtown Austin via bus, at almost any time of day. Easy access such as this, makes it highly attractive to those seeking an urban lifestyle.

The Triangle, Lamar and Guadalupe:

(pfrench99 on Flickr)

So even though it's not along a light-rail corridor, The Triangle is the closest Austin has to anything resembling transit-oriented development, with a focus on residential space, and small, local stores and restaurants. Due to its high levels of transit service, as well as its proximity to Central Market, a large organic grocer, it's an easy sell to people wanting to lessen their reliance on the auto.

Part of the reason that the Triangle was able to develop as an entire pedestrian-oriented community, rather than one building, is due to it being a combination of greenfield and infill development, being built on land that where previously, the Austin State Hospital stood.

(Next post... Midtown Commons at Crestview)


Austin Transit Fantasy Map

Been playing around with making up LRT, Streetcar, and BRT routes for a fantasy Austin transit system.

View Austin Transit Fantasy in a larger map


Oh yeah....

...I'm back. Or at least I hope I am. Refocused the blog too, hopefully over the summer I'll have the opportunity to do some hands-on reportage.

And by the way, I Twitter.

MetroRail Article I'd Never Seen

Maybe it's just that I'm extra jaded today, but I thought this article (Metro Jacksonville), an overview of CapMetro's MetroRail Red Line, and the development around it, is relatively naive. Never seen it before, either.

MJ is advocating a Red Line-style DMU line as a replacement for Jacksonville's proposed BRT lines. They put it forward as
>...an affordable alternative for a traditional light rail plan that was rejected by Austin voters back in 2000.


What Makes Austin Different...

...in a bad way?

Read this post by M1EK, summing up some of CapMetro's recent screw-ups...

...and wondered, why the heck does Austin always get screwed over? I mean, first, the defeat of the 2000 light rail plan, then the passage of the 2004 commuter rail proposal, its continual delays, the delays of the urban rail plan, the cut-backs in express bus service, lack of any good new urbanism, and getting passed up in the "progressive, what works" category by Houston, Dallas, and heck even Ft Worth! (Not to mention Phoenix having an awesome new LRT system, Phoenix!)

Just curious... ;-)


The Good, The Bad, and the Crazy!

From Wired.com, crazy ideas in Michigan:
Michigan Could Be Home To Maglev Superhighway

Lawmakers in Michigan are considering plans to build a high-speed, hydrogen-powered maglev rail line that would carry people between Detroit and Lansing using specially built cars, buses, and trucks...

Talk about scalability! All the problems of roads, maglev, monorail, cetc. combined!

This is the only good part, a smart grid-ish combined network incorporated in the trackway:
...but will spin off enough surplus energy to power municipal sewer and water, communication, and security systems, and its tracks can be used to house conduit clusters of utility lines and fiber optic cables...

Still crazy though, when real HSR would be a better idea.


"Urban Rail" in Austin?

Community Impact: Proposed urban rail could relieve road congestion

© Community Impact 2009

Latest news that I've seen about the Austin/CAMPO Urban Rail project recently was a page-long article in the Leander/Cedar Park edition of the Community Impact newspaper. Gives some nice definitions of what the heck they're meaning by "urban rail", and where they plan to route the train, ans well as some dates.

According to Austin's Transportation Director, Rob Spillar, they're branding it as "urban rail" because
"We're trying to make a distinction, that this is something different, a technology that can have the characteristics of both light rail and streetcars..."
Interesting idea, but I think I've seen most systems with grade-separation and street-running still called "light rail, but maybe this is an issue of semantics that still needs to be resolved?

Community Impact also laid down a supposed route for the "urban rail" system, which sounds much more promising than the route of the commuter rail Red Line:
"...15.3-mile track would originate in Mueller, go down Manor, through UT and past the Capitol to connect with CapMetro's Red Line... then crossing the river, before running down Riverside, and out to ABIA."
Here's a possibility of actually building a rail system that would serve a much higher ridership/percentage of Austinites, hitting the two major governmental complexes in town (accessibility of course depending exactly where the line is routed), through a busy part of downtown, and the urbanized Riverside corridor. Thus why the ridership calculations are for:
"...32,000 riders a year."

Apparently the CAMPO Transit Working Group even voted to approve further action upon the Urban Rail plan by 11-1, with former Travis County County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty being the only "ney" vote. Ray Spillar sees putting the bond proposition of $290 millon (to match 50/50 with FTA funds) on the May or November 2010 ballot. Too bad I'll be gone to college then.

There might yet be hope for Austin and REAL rail transit...

EDIT 3/7/09: Link and Map

Much Later...

...the Oregon saga...

I was there to visit colleges. Scoped out Reed College [pics] in Portland, as well as University of Oregon [pics] in Eugene. Both were amazing schools with very, very nice campuses benefiting from being within amazing, walkable neighborhoods, and great public transit.

Also went downtown in Portland, and did some street photography...



If it wasn't already obvious...

...I never got to ride the MAX in PDX. Or take pictures of it ever.

I'll update later today on what I did do there.


Suggestions for Portland Visit?

I leave for PDX on Sunday, and hope to update this blog with some travelogues while there, from riding MAX and/or the streetcar. Or from seeing the Eugene BRT. I was wondering if anyone had suggestions on attractions in Portland?


  • Sunday: Fly AUS-PHX-PDX, have the afternoon in Portland

  • Monday: Have the morning in Portland, probably leave for Eugene in the afternoon

  • Tuesday: Spend the day in Eugene at UO, then return to Portland

  • Wednesday: Take Reed tour in the morning, fly PDX-LAS-AUS


Trip to Portland in the Works...

Finally get to visit Light Rail Valhalla (Portland, Oregon) in two weeks. Hopping a Southwest flight to Phoenix, then another to Portland in two weeks. Visiting Reed College and the University of Oregon on that Tuesday and Wednesday; two days to play around Portland!

Can't wait to ride TriMAX and the Streetcar. Only ridden two other LRT lines: the F-Market line in San Francisco, and the VTA in San Jose.

I'll probably post some kind of trip report... :)