I missed this at the time, but it deserves comment.
Cap Metro is developing its long-range plan, which it calls "ServicePlan2020." It has hired a consultant from Washington state to prepare the plan (13.1 MB pdf).
I doubt the consultants have set foot in Austin because the draft plan contains a simply horrendous proposal, a proposal that could only be made by someone who doesn't know the facts on the ground. That is to switch key local bus routes from Congress, Colorado and Brazos to Lavaca and Guadalupe. Most significantly, the 1L/1M, which runs down Congress, and the No. 3, which runs up Brazos on its northern route and down Colorado on its southern route. These are Austin's two most important north-south bus routes, linking the southern fringe of town with the northern fringe; they have lots and lots of riders.
The consultant offers a couple of rationales. One is to relieve bus congestion on Congress. The consultant accurately observes that Congress is beset by a "wall" of buses creeping ever so solely down Congress's twelve blocks.
I won't even paraphrase the other -- it is so bizarrely wrong, I would feel obliged to understate it:
[W]hile the sidewalk [on Congress] is wide, there are virtually no other passenger amenities on Congress. Transfers in downtown Austin take place at stops with few amenities such as benches, shelters, or security. Provisions for restrooms should be considered.
The implication, of course, is that Lavaca and Guadalupe offer more amenities; otherwise, this would be an irrelevant observation.
Let's take these at face value. Do they hold water? No. Just tote up the costs and benefits to the folks who will be most affected: bus riders, drivers and downtown shops.
The claim that Congress offers few amenities is, again, bizarre. Congress is lined with wide sidewalks, trees, restaurants, coffee shops, clothing stores, art galleries and museums, a dry cleaner, a pharmacy, an optometrist, a jeweler, and the Paramount theater. Perhaps more importantly, it is lined with multi-story buildings that shade riders from Austin's afternoon sun. Congress is the coolest place downtown during the July-August inferno.
Here are Guadalupe's amenities:
There are few multi-story buildings, and those that exist are set back from the sidewalk, so they offer little shade. The sidewalks are narrow. The streets stink of automobile fumes during rush hour. (I know because I contribute to the fumes; Guadalupe is my natural route home.) The only amenities north of Second Street are the courthouse, library and Republic Square.
The consultant has got it exactly backward. We shouldn't let Cap Metro get away with that.
The congestion argument is wrong, too. Not just wrong. Strange. The No. 3 today travels on Colorado and Brazos, two of downtown's mostly lightly traveled streets. I often cut over to Colorado in the evenings to avoid the parking lot that is Guadalupe. The No. 3 obviously does not contribute to Congress's congestion since it does not even cross Congress. Moving the No. 3 to Guadalupe and Lavaca can only lengthen bus riders' commute, particularly during the rush hours. The consultant doesn't even try to reconcile this with its congestion argument.
And I don't believe that moving the 1L/1M from Congress will relieve congestion either. What matters is net congestion. Yes, Congress would be less congested, but Lavaca and Guadalupe would become more congested. These streets are already worse than Congress. If buses today create a "wall" on Congress, they would create a parking lot on Guadalupe. A better idea (and one which the consultant does endorse) is to eliminate stops at every block.
Then there is the cost to drivers. Guadalupe and Lavaca, which provide clear shots to points north and south of downtown, carry a lot more traffic than Congress. Drivers can and do avoid Congress because of the bus traffic, but that's alright, because they have to swith to a through street anyway (Lavaca, Red River or I-35) to go north, or I-35 or the Congress bridge to go south. The latter is a good thing, since the Congress Avenue bridge is less congested than the South First Street bridge. Clogging already clogged major commuter routes will add minutes to more drivers' commutes. I don't guess Cap Metro is charged with considering the cost to them, but we ought to make it do so.
Finally, there is the cost to Congress and its merchants. Congress is downtown Austin's most vibrant, lively street. Stroll it sometime. See street corners filled with people. See crowds crossing Congress at Sixth. Lots of these people are bus riders. Pull them off Congress and Congress loses its vitality. That will hurt its pedestrian-friendliness, and it will have to hurt the merchants who rely on walk-in (literally) business.
Cap Metro is throwing away good money by soliciting this kind of nonsense. It has a new board. I hope it nips this plan in the bud.