In the latest draft of possible urban- and light-rail alignments, we generally see the same routes we’ve been looking at for the past year. Alas, it’s important to understand that rail will not simply be delivered, it will evolve over decades to serve more and more people. The Statesman has a nice graphic that shows the heart of the system being envisioned. [Read more...]
My friend Zeke had a vision. He had a vision to make workouts fun and accessible to guys who don’t usually work out and who generally don’t really like working out. He had a vision to blend exercise with exploring. Zeke (and the other founding members of the group) made his vision into reality with a small (but growing) bike club call “Fat Guy Cycling Club.” The group does weekly (weather permitting) bike rides around central and downtown Austin, usually followed by a pretty manly lunch. Downtown Austin Blog loves his concept, and asked him to write a very short blurb on his group….
Six months after the opening of the MetroRail… Downtown Austin Blog contributor, Nicole Sanseverino, hops on board the Red Line with an update on just how well the $110 million dollar project is doing.
The MetroRail makes its way from Leander to Downtown Austin on 32-miles of existing freight tracks. It’s a commuter rail that runs only during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. UT students ride for free using their IDs. But, some students don’t even know it exists…
“The MetroRail… I don’t know anyone who takes it,” said one UT student.
According to Cap Metro, less than one percent of the UT community take advantage of the rail. One student who lives in Round Rock says the rail is a convenient way to get to class.
“It’s quick, it’s calm, sometimes I can sleep on it. I don’t get sick like on the bus,” said UT student Anke Sanders. But, she does wish the rail operated at other times during the day. “If it could ran more often especially during weekends maybe to go downtown for dinner or something that’d be ideal,” Sanders said.
If the City’s proposed Mobility Bond passes in November, it will launch an effort to expand the rail. CapMetro approved mid-day service beginning in January, but doesn’t have any concrete plans to increase the actual infrastructure of the rail.
“We don’t have any immediate plans for building more. I think what people would see first would be maybe purchasing more vehicles, expanding these rail stations,” Cap Metro spokesperson Misty Whited said.
After its first six months, the MetroRail is averaging 800 riders per day, but the city of Austin and CapMetro hope that as the population increases, so will ridership.
“We think it’s a great success,” Whited said. “We’re operating very well and efficiently, we just would like to see some more riders of course, but with any new service it takes time to develop that ongoing ridership patterns that you would like to see.”
Despite some bumpy tracks near its beginning, the rail chugs along.
Nine months after the plan was announced, this week they begin the parking improvements to 6th Street that will result in angles “back in” style parking. This is a shift from parallel parking found on most of W 6th. This has been espoused as a safer method of parking when trying to facilitate a major east-west artery, bike lane, and retail parking.
There’s a new way to be heard and see what others are saying about transportation in Austin. Since the urban core of a large and fast growing city like Austin needs effective transportation, every Downtown Austin Blog reader should also get snapping.
SNAPPatx – Social Networking and Planning Project in Austin, TX – began with UT students sitting around a table talking about how to give students a better way get involved in transportation decisions that mean so much for the their lives in Austin. These students, the City of Austin’s Department of Transportation, and Alliance for Public Transportation coordinated with Texas Citizen Fund to applied for and won a Federal Transit Administration PTP grant to innovate the use of social media as an easier and more convenient option for engaging Austin’s Strategic Mobility Planning (ASMP).
SNAPP focuses communications specifically toward some of the population segments least likely to show up to traditional planning meetings, e.g., younger adults/students, adults with young families, and seniors.
How SNAPPatx functions
SNAPP coordinates with the City of Austin, and other information resources, to develop and push out timely information about issues and decisions related to Strategic Mobility Planning.
SNAPP actively encourages discussion by:
- Capturing comments related to transportation in Austin.
- Communication specialists who ask questions to ensure each commenter is providing clear input related to Strategic Mobility Planning.
- Hosting surveys and other unique activities.
- To promote even more conversation, all of this is displayed as transparently as possible in aggregate on the SNAPPatx website and separately, Facebook fans see Facebook comments, Twitter followers see tweets, etc.
Finally, SNAPP analyzes all of these comments for type of comment, themes, topics, trends and sentiment. Specific “gaps” identified are sent directly to the City to become part of their gaps database. A detailed report on trends, topics, and themes is provided to the Strategic Mobility Plan staff and contractors as additional input into the planning process. And, the analysis of trends, themes, and topic is pushed back out into the SNAPP conversation as well.
Start snapping today
The clock is ticking. SNAPPatx has only months to show the world that Austin figure out how to use social media as a handy way to make a difference in planning – Austin Strategic Mobility Plan to be specific. So we need you to connect with us by:
Follow us on Twitter
Become a fan on Facebook
Connecting is the easiest way for you to see information as well as things your neighbors are saying about transportation, and then to contribute your own ideas and thoughts.
Part 2 of 2 Parts (click here to read Part 1 – The Overview of the project and its design)
1. It is not a “boardwalk”. Look closely. It is an elevated concrete human highway. 14-feet wide, 6-feet above the water, up to 70 feet out from shore. Built of concrete and steel. Out over the open waters of our beautiful and naturally pristine lake/river.
2. Cheaper alternatives exist. Either fully on land, closer to land, or a combination of both. With specifications that start with the minimum specs of the existing Trail: the Hyatt Regency segment, 5 to 6 feet wide, between the First Street and Congress Avenue bridges. This CAN be built across nearly the entire 1.2 mile stretch. For far less cost. However the necessary analysis and conceptual design work has never been done. The necessary conversations have never been had.
3. The “full project cost” could actually be over $20 million. Nearly $4.3 million has already been allocated toward consultants and design over the past two years out of existing city budgets of which $2.4 million has been spent or obligated to date. Plus the $16 million more now sought for construction. All for 1.2 miles of roadway. This road should be paved with gold.
4. This project does not “complete” the trail gap. It will lead users east along the shoreline to the Longhorn Dam. That dam has a narrow and dangerous sidewalk crossing – where two strollers can barely pass each other over the Dam – alongside heavy traffic flow on Pleasant Valley Road. Clearly a “Pfluger-style” pedestrian bridge needs to be built parallel to the west side of the dam. A very expensive bridge. Then there is another “gap” on the North Shore around the former Holly Power Plant. Those segments? Not addressed.
5. The cleverly packaged and named “Boardwalk” is itself a hazardous solution for the need it is trying to fill and the improved safety it is attempting to yield. True, the existing sidewalk-based trail routing along Riverside Drive has a challenging crossing at IH-35 and some close proximity to road traffic. Interestingly, though, no ped-bike-vehicle accidents statistics have ever been produced. Folks know they must be very careful getting through there. But the 14-foot wide Boardwalk over-design intentionally promotes high-speed, two-abreast, bicycle traffic…in two directions…out over the open river waters…in direct conflict with pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs, dog-walkers, and others who would also be on the same pathway. There is nowhere to jump out of the way of danger. There is no easy way to reach injured parties. There is no shade out in the open water.
Some folks have been asking how this project came to be? Good question. Please read on…
PROJECT BACKGROUND & FACT SHEET
In 2004, a diverse group of citizens, businesses, and neighborhood leaders formed the I-35 Makeover Coalition to help transform this area into a public asset. They began working for a safe, clean and attractive gateway reconnecting downtown to East Austin. This area was a broad boulevard called Eastside Drive until postwar era, when IH-35 was built over it in a series of elevated and buried sections.
The Makeover Coalition provided the support necessary to improve this connection between downtown and the east side of Austin. The coalition obtained a grant of $250,000 from Keep Austin Beautiful (KAB) to help fund the landscape portion.
City Council approved two funding sources for this project. They first approved a resolution in March, 2005 explicitly supporting the use of parking revenue from the City-managed IH-35 parking lots for the IH-35 Makeover Project. In March of 2007, City Council passed a resolution setting aside $1.5 million to be provided by the future issuance of non-tax supported certificates of obligation.
These funding sources have allowed the City to move forward with the IH-35 Makeover Project, which will include reconstructing the parking lot areas, with curb and gutters to improve drainage in the area. The concrete will be cleaned, signs removed and replaced, and specialty lighting fixtures will enhance the safety, comfort, and aesthetics of the area.
The lighting project will be done through the City’s Art in Public Places Program and will be programmed LED lights in arches over the parking lots. A computer-generated illumination will create a show as well as create safe lighting.
The project is expected to start in June and take approximately seven months, at which time TXDot will begin the landscape improvements funded through the KAB grant.
Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview
If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:
At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project. What’s not to like?
The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest. It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?
Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right? At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.
(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007. The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials. Hard to tell what to properly call it.)
And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”. Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.
To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details. As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding. Let’s take a look.
First off there’s the topline math. $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity. That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask! For just one project. According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.
The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity. Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of “A” projects left standing. What about the other 480 or so projects? What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?
Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself. While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure. For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets. For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.
Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks. The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.
How can this be?
There are no boards in this boardwalk!
The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!
And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!
And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.
Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?
Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here. There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.