Austin Transportation Department presented their Urban Rail Alternatives Evaluation to the Austin City Council. This is the first phase of an ongoing planning effort to explore Austin's options for a rail system serving key urban destinations and adding connections to the regional transit and mobility network.
The evaluation looks at:
- Need and Purpose
- Transit Options (bus, rapid bus, and rail)
- Return on Investment
- Preferred Alternative
- Other Implementation Issues
The purpose of a new transit investment is to improve mobility, connectivity, and the sustainability of Central Austin.
New higher‐capacity transit service can offer a safe, reliable, and efficient alternative to existing traffic congestion; to relieve roadways with little room for expansion. By connecting Downtown, the Capitol Complex, and the University of Texas to each other via the emerging regional rail network, new added transit can improve mobility and help manage Austin's inevitable growth.
The Need for a Transit Investment
Austin is at the heart of the rapidly growing Central Texas Region. Central Austin’s existing transportation network is at capacity during peak hours and there are few opportunities to expand roadways, yet Austin’s continued social, environmental, and economic vitality depend on mobility. Doing nothing threatens our quality of life.
Ann Richards - Growth is an Expensive Proposition
The Purpose for a Transit Investment
- Improve connections between key existing and emerging destinations
- Improve the regional transportation network by providing connections among transit modes
- Increase the person‐moving capacity of the transportation network with a new higher‐capacity option.
- Provide benefits to the community by supporting sustainable land use planning, adding public amenities, and improving access to destinations.
- Invest in transit improvements with the greatest benefits to the built and natural environments
- Invest in transit improvements that support existing economies, catalyze economic growth, and provide economic benefits for users
Making Transportation Smarter – Introduction
Expanded 'urban rail' would run through downtown on both sides of Capitol
Route across the river not yet determined in revised plan being presented to City Council.
By Ben Wear
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010
Downtown Austin would have two north-south passenger rail corridors, a more expansive network than previously envisioned, under a recommendation that City of Austin staff will present today to the Austin City Council.
The proposed rail system — which would be in addition to Capital Metro's commuter rail line scheduled to open next month — would link the Mueller development in East Austin to the University of Texas to downtown to the airport.
One route would run north on Lavaca Street and south on Guadalupe Street and another north and south along Congress Avenue and San Jacinto Boulevard. The two corridors would be linked at Fourth, 17th and 18th streets.
A single rail line would cross Lady Bird Lake between South First Street and a point several blocks east of Congress Avenue, but the city is not ready to recommend a specific crossing route.
The rail plan includes about 40 more blocks of streetcar or light rail tracks than versions of the plan circulated over the past several years — including a line on San Antonio Street west of the UT campus.
A related bond issue could go to voters as early as November, but city Transportation Director Robert Spillar said a new — and likely much higher — cost estimate is not yet ready.
Spillar said the city wants to avoid downtown rail gridlock of the sort Dallas is now experiencing, with several rail routes converging on a single line. Spillar said it is easy to envision a future rail system with legs going north on North Lamar Boulevard, northeast toward Hancock Center, south on South Congress Avenue and southwest along South Lamar Boulevard, each with several trains an hour arriving in the central business district.
"That was the real ah-ha moment we had," Spillar said. "We need to make sure we have the capacity downtown to handle all of a future system."
Where is Urban Rail Going?
10 Reasons to Love a Streetcar
The 'streetcar effect' – offering Austinites far more than a free ride
BY KATHERINE GREGOR
JULY 20, 2007
1 Streetcar systems shape a city – positively.
2 Streetcars are tools that promote compact, walkable, people-friendly places.
3 People like to ride streetcars.
4 A streetcar entices people to ride regional rail.
5 Streetcars are green transportation.
6 Streetcars attract tourists, conventioneers, and visiting grandchildren as fun "transportainment."
7 Where streetcars go, private development follows.
8 By generating new value and revenues, a streetcar system can pay for itself.
9 Streetcars are much less expensive than light-rail.
10 Streetcars can be historic and charming – or sleek and modern.
The article provides much more detail and description of each “reason” listed.
Just the Facts Mam
Defintion of "Better Bus":
"Better Bus technology offers enhanced convenience to passengers by incorporating a variety of features distinguishing it from conventional bus, including, for example, employment of intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies and other priority measures to minimize travel delay, use of special stops or stations to distinguish the service and add visibility (prominence) to the route, and the use of special, distinctive vehicles, possibly with added passenger amenities.
Better Bus vehicles may be technologically advanced buses using a traffic signal priority (TSP) system to move with less delay through traffic. This modal alternative would also employ other ITS technologies, such as off‐board fare collection, also known as 'honor system', and would stop curbside approximately every three blocks. The Better Bus alternative may use rapid loading features incorporated into the vehicle design. Unlike Urban Rail, Better Bus does not include a dedicated right‐of‐way, though like Urban Rail it could include a transit‐only lane for portions of the alignment.
Because this alternative still uses the bus as the basic mode of transportation, improving the level of service by the introduction of new operating scenarios and/or enhancement technologies, this alternative is considered the FTA Transportation Systems Management (TSM) alternative. Under FTA's New Starts program, a TSM alternative is used for a baseline for comparison against the proposed guideway alternative at the preliminary engineering phase. The TSM alternative is characterized as the
"best that can be done" to improve transit service in the corridor via operational modifications and lower‐cost capital improvements, without constructing a new transit guideway.
The Urban Rail Alternative:
Urban Rail is the City of Austin’s term for an overhead‐electric‐ powered fixed‐guideway service that blends the technological and operational characteristics of modern streetcar and light rail transit (LRT). Urban Rail can operate in both mixed‐traffic and within a dedicated right‐of‐way. When operating in a mixed‐flow environment, Urban Rail vehicles typically operate at speeds comparable to surrounding traffic. However, within a dense urban environment and when provided with dedicated right‐of‐way, Urban Rail vehicles can provide operational characteristics comparable to that of light rail. Urban Rail vehicles range from the “modern streetcar” currently used in Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma (approximately 66 feet long with a total passenger capacity up to 120, with a top speed of approximately 45 miles per hour) to new cross‐over vehicles such as the S70 Ultra Short proposed for use in Salt Lake City.
that is approximately 79 feet long with a total passenger capacity of 160 and a top speed approaching 60 miles per hour. Urban Rail vehicles can be designed to operate in multi‐vehicle trains, if needed. In addition, alternative power modes such as batteries are under development by some manufacturers and warrant further investigation as an alternative to a system powered completely by overhead electric wires.
The Urban Rail alternative is proposed to include both exclusive right‐of‐way and mixed flow operations. Urban Rail vehicles would operate in mixed traffic (with automobiles) in more congested urban areas such as downtown where extra ROW for independent guide way is scarce. In the Riverside Corridor, where street rights‐of‐way are typically wider, there is generally sufficient room to create a semi‐exclusive or dedicated right‐of‐way by widening the overall street to the outside to provide replacement
auto capacity for those lanes converted for transit use.
The Urban Rail alternative generally consists of two sets of tracks – one set in each direction. In many areas, where streetcar‐like mixed‐flow operations are proposed, curbside tracks would be employed and stops would use existing or expanded sidewalks. In areas where LRT‐like dedicated or semi‐exclusive rights‐of‐way are proposed, a center‐running system could be used. Placement of tracks in the center of
streets would entail use of narrow side‐platform or center‐platform stops, which could reduce the street width available for traffic in some locations. Under streetcar‐like operations, Urban Rail stops would be spaced approximately every two to four blocks; whereas under LRT‐like service, stops would be placed generally every 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 mile. These rapid service stops would be strategically located and consistent with neighborhood plans to maximize ridership generation, connection to cross transit routes, and efficiency of the system. Urban Rail would incorporate similar features and amenities to the Better Bus alternative, like off‐board fare collection and ITS technologies, such as signal priority (TSP) and queue jump3, as well as additional enhancements, like level boarding.
The Recommended Locally Preferred Alternative
As a result of the conceptual and detailed evaluations, the recommended Locally Preferred Alternative
(LPA) is Urban Rail, serving the Austin core (CBD, Capitol Complex, University of Texas,) Mueller Neighborhood, East Riverside Corridor, and Austin Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA).
Length: 33.8 track miles, 16.5 route miles
Capital Cost: $955 million in first quarter 2010 dollars or $1.3 billion in year‐of expenditure (YoE) dollars* at $37.2 million YoE per track mile.
Operations Cost: Approximately $25 million YoE per year.
Ridership: Average weekday ridership projected to be approximately 27,600 by 2030.
Operations Plan: Two crossing routes (6.5 and 10 route miles each), with 10‐minute peak/off‐peak headways, using 27 vehicles (plus 2 spares), with service 16 hours a day/5 days a week and reduced service on weekends and holidays.
Travel Time: Approximately 32 – 33 minutes from end‐to‐end for both routes.
East CBD – Congress Avenue vs. Brazos Street
One issue involves the designation of a core alignment through the east side of downtown. This study recommends that Congress Avenue, rather than Brazos Street, be used for the primary Urban Rail alignment on the east side of downtown.
Lady Bird Lake Crossing – Existing Bridge vs. New Bridge
A key issue is where should the crossing of Lady Bird Lake (LBL) take place – should Urban Rail cross on one of the existing bridges, Congress Avenue or South 1st Street, or on a new bridge within this vicinity. This study has looked at one option for a new structure and recommends additional study of both the ability of the existing bridges to accommodate Urban Rail and additional new alignments across LBL. This issue will be evaluated in detail through a NEPA environmental process planned for 2010‐2011.
Maintenance Facility Options
Given the likelihood that an initial investment segment for Urban Rail will center around the downtown area, property is being sought to accommodate a maintenance facility in the immediate vicinity. Acquiring or developing any property in the CBD can be costly; therefore the City of Austin is reviewing existing city‐owned properties to redevelop with a maintenance facility. A possible option for a near‐downtown city –owned property is One Texas Center, on Barton Springs Rd. It is advised that additional study be conducted to provide a final recommendation.
The Next Steps Toward Urban Rail System Implementation
The next step in the program development process is for the City Council to adopt a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) recommendation.
This step will also designate the LPA as a project for a more detailed environmental study to begin in the Fall 2010.. As part of the environmental study, the City will identify a lead federal agency, publish a notice of intent (NOI), and begin additional public outreach and project development, including capital and operations funding plans, operations and governance strategies, and system phasing; as well as resolution of the design issues noted above for further consideration.
Ultimately, it is anticipated that voters will decide in a bond election whether to fund an initial phase of the Urban Rail system.