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why I do not support the current urban rail plan

The following is adapted from a post I sent to our neighborhood association list in response to a CapMetro rep being on the agenda for our next meeting, to promote the urban rail plan. Tl;dr version: I don't think that enough people will ride it to justify urban rail, and, if our first line is unsuccessful due to reliance on overly optimistic growth projections, then it will hurt transit over-all.

If project Connect's projections for population growth turn out to be overly optimistic, then we build an underutilized rail line, meaning that bus service would likely be cut to make up for budget shortfalls, and people would be less likely to support expanding the rail system in the future if they see trains that not that many people ride because they don't go where most people want to get. So I would consider building a bad rail line to be worse over-all than doing nothing. Project Connect's model predicts that the area they are calling the Highland sub-corridor will grow at 3.6% each year for the next 20 years. From 2000-2010, Austin's population as a whole grew by 20.4%, or 1.9% annually. I don't believe the neighborhood associations along the northern segment of the rail route are in favor of additional density/upzoning. This article discusses a rail line in Silicon Valley which has been expensive to operate, under-utilized, and generally not very successful. "Connolly noted that the South Bay's first light-rail line was built along onion fields, where planners had expected homes and businesses to pop up along the route. That contrasted with the strategy in most other cities, which is to put light rail along existing, dense corridors." Also, http://keepaustinwonky.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/a-day-late-and-a-few-thousand-riders-short/

If we build rail to Highland Mall, then it seems unlikely that we would actually be able to build rail on Guadalupe/Lamar any time soon. Regardless of whether there are any technical obstacles to doing it, the question would be whether people decide that it would be unfair to build a third north-south train / a second urban rail line passing through Hyde Park when other parts of the city still have no rail.

Project Connect states that the process for selecting the alignment was "data-driven," implying that it has been proven to be the best place to put our initial rail line. In the first phase of the project, which determined what part of the city was to get a rail line, a number of strange decisions were made. One of these was the decision itself to have a phase 1, where large areas of the city were compared against each other across various metrics. To determine how well a particular route will function, you want to know how many people can walk to the station from their house and how many people can, ie, walk to their office or campus from the station. This becomes obscured when you start by looking at population data for large sectors of the city--"Lamar", for instance, stretched as far as Shoal Creek and was cut off to the south at 29th St. Additionally, for things such as population and congestion, 2010 levels, projected 2030 levels, and projected growth between 2010 and 2030 were all given weight, meaning that 2030 projections were double-counted (a + b + (b - a) = 2b). West Campus was placed in the "core" sector along with downtown, so the chosen alignment (up UT through the center of the campus) was treated as serving West Campus as well as a line going up Guadalupe would have served it. The Highland route is expected to provide an alternative to driving on I35, but this seems to assume that people will get off the highway, find a place to park, walk to the train station, wait, and take a slow, meandering train downtown.

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July 2014

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