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Cap Metro looking for ways to entice more riders

Tuesday, February 24, 2004 by

Passenger rail will draw the most attention

Capital Metro will roll out a number of new transit options this spring in order to broaden its ridership base and meet its goals of congestion reduction and clean air advocacy.

Passenger rail is only one option among many to be considered by the Capital Metro board of directors. Rick L’Amie, vice president of communications, said the upcoming outreach efforts are intended to present ideas that can address transit in the region. Almost any serious service adjustment will require a policy decision by the board, L’Amie said.

“The solutions include expanded local bus service, rapid bus service and expanded enhanced express service,” said L’Amie, adding that even High-Occupancy Vehicles are likely to be discussed. “We’re looking at the long-range needs of the region.”

Passenger rail, however, is likely to be the high-profile issue of the meetings, which will probably be scheduled in either April or May. While Capital Metro does not want to be pinned down on a preference—any deliberations or direction would come from the Board of Directors—L’Amie admitted that some form of commuter rail would be evaluated.

One community suggestion is to use the existing Capital Metro freight rail line for some form of commuter rail, L’Amie said. Capital Metro planners are still at work on the specifics, such as number of stops and types of technology. The Leander line is likely to be the first option on the table, L’Amie said.

Whether rail succeeds or not, Capital Metro will continue to make efforts to target those who have yet to use mass transit. Last August, Capital Metro introduced the night owl routes, which run downtown between midnight and 3am. Both barhoppers and graveyard shift workers use the overnight bus route, at about 150 riders per night.

Capital Metro’s two most popular routes are Routes 1 and 3. The North Lamar/South Congress bus, Route 1, runs up South Congress from William Cannon to the Capitol and then jogs over to Guadalupe and up North Lamar. More than 12,000 people ride this route daily, including a strong core of University of Texas students.

Burnet/Manchaca, Route 3, runs north from Manchaca at Slaughter up to the Capitol, jogs through the UT area and up past Northcross Mall and ends at the Arboretum. Ridership on this bus route includes neighborhood traffic, as well as mall shoppers and those who work at the Austin State School and Texas School for the Blind.

Capital Metro spokesperson Libba Letton said is constantly evaluating the needs of the community and looking for services that fill those needs. When Capital Metro sees sufficient need, the transit agency gets to work to craft new options.

When asked to identify the chief issue among Capital Metro riders, planner Roberto Gonzales pointed to speed. Riders want to reach their destination faster. Capital Metro’s task is to find a service that gets people to their destination quickly, without the headache of trying to find a parking space in a downtown parking lot.

To that end, Capital Metro staff is presenting rapid bus routes at upcoming meetings. The rapid bus, between the limited stop bus route and the express bus route, would be a bus route with limited stops and some signalization coordination. The rapid bus route would not have its own dedicated lanes.

Buses would cue traffic lights to stay green a little longer or turn from red to green a little faster if the bus is approaching the intersection and is running behind schedule, Gonzales said.

The rapid bus routes would capitalize on those who are using Capital Metro’s new park-and-ride facilities. Capital Metro currently operates a dozen such facilities. With the exception of one location in Oak Hill, all of the facilities are north of downtown. Two of those locations are located as far north as Jonestown.

Eliminating stops—the difference between the local stop route and the limited stop route—cuts about a quarter of the time on a bus route, Gonzales said. Rapid bus service should make that even faster. Limited to freeways with few stops, the express route is the fastest of all.

Historic Landmark Commission likes North University NCCD

Plan would require HLC OK to demolish any structure that might contribute to historic district

A proposed Neighborhood Conservation Combining District for the North University neighborhood won unanimous endorsement from the Historic Landmark Commission Monday evening with only minor opposition from a handful of residents. Unlike the complicated NCCD for Hyde Park, most of the major issues facing the North University area had been worked out before the NCCD was brought forward for board and commission review.

“We’re not trying to do a lot of down-zonings with this,” said architect Karen McGraw, who served as a consultant for the North University Neighborhood Association during their work on the NCCD. “We’re trying to preserve things the way they are now.” Under the draft of the NCCD being considered, the North University area would be divided into seven different districts based on land uses and other characteristics. Specific site development regulations would vary from district to district, based in part on the most common land uses within each district. The NCCD sets out a general residential district with guidelines for front-yard setbacks, lot width, parking, building height, and numerous other provisions. It also itemizes other districts based around Speedway, Adams Park, San Jacinto, Guadalupe, Waller Creek, and a transitional district. For those areas with extensive commercial uses, the districts also include guidelines for signs, outdoor cafes, and loading docks. The plan is available on line at http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zoning/north_university.htm

Leaders of NUNA ( North University Neighborhood Association) told commissioners they were satisfied with the results of the many meetings they had held to discuss the NCCD. “It’s been up for debate in all segments of our neighborhood,” said NUNA Co-President Rick Iverson. “We’re still pinching ourselves to make sure it’s real.” While Tom Bolt with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department told the commission that a large number of people had participated in the planning meetings, some neighborhood residents said they could have used more information. Mike Murphy said the notifications he had received from the city did not contain enough information to adequately make a judgment about the pros and cons of the NCCD. “None of us has any idea what this means,” he said. “I can’t say I’m opposed, myself…but for this to be presented as if its representative of the neighborhood . . . is not correct.”

Larry Paul Manley also told commissioners that not enough information had been presented about the plan. “In a case like this, you need to outline for property owners what their current rights are now and what they will be,” he said. “Nowhere has that been done.” Manley also had concerns about height limitations and setback requirements outlined in the NCCD.

After receiving assurances from staff that there would be further opportunities for neighbors to ask questions about the NCCD, the HLC voted 7-0 to endorse the proposal. The draft the commissioners supported included language that prohibits the demolition or alteration of any building which potentially contribute to a historic district without the HLC’s approval. That language replaced a previous draft which provided a more solid prohibition against removing or altering any building more than 50 years old within the NCCD without the HLC’s approval. The less restrictive wording in the current draft would make it easier for some aging multi-family complexes to be renovated or replaced in the next few years, said agent Mike McHone, who represented several neighborhood property owners. While the HLC’s resolution specifically endorses the less-restrictive language, that clause of the NCCD is still under review by the city’s legal department and may be changed. The Planning Commission will also have a chance to weigh in on the NCCD before it goes to the City Council for final approval.

Early voting begins slowly . . . Travis County showed a modest turnout on the first day of early voting yesterday, with all locations reporting a combined total of 1625 votes. The Travis County Courthouse reporting the most interest, with 127 voters casting ballots. Of the remainder, 36 came from mobile voting sites at the county’s community centers . . . A good day for Doggett . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who is running in the toughest race of his career (except for the one against Senator Phil Gramm) got a boost yesterday from the web-based organization MoveOn.org . The liberal organization, which raised more than $1 million to run anti-President Bush ads, is now raising money for Doggett. Their email says, “While the Presidential race dominates headlines, Tom DeLay’ s underhanded plans for Texas are quietly moving forward. DeLay’s goal has been clear from the start: to eliminate key progressives and at the same time ensure that the makeup of the U.S. Congress stays solidly Republican. One of DeLay’s prime targets is U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. Lloyd has been one of the most progressive leaders in the House. He was a leader against the rush to war in Iraq and has consistently stood his ground against the extremist policies of the Republican leadership.” The message then quotes the now infamous email from an internal Republican Congressional staff person describing Doggett’s new district (“ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”) Readers are directed to the web site to make a contribution . . . Also yesterday, the State Association of Fire Fighters endorsed Doggett. The endorsement was announced at a meeting in McAllen that was attended by fire fighters from across the Valley . . . Jan who? . . In Fact Daily has been trying to determine who put up a web site outlining judicial candidate Jan Soifer’s work for Republicans defending redistricting in 2001. (See In Fact Daily Feb. 20, 2004.) Yesterday we contacted Oscar Garza in San Antonio, who is listed as the sponsor of the web site. But he claimed no knowledge of it. The site went up on Dec. 5, 2003 and has no political tagline, although it seems, without pretense, to be aimed at defeating Soifer in her first run for office.According to the Ethics Commission, it is a Class A misdemeanor for anyone who is trying to influence the result of an election to misrepresent the person’s identity. Judge Gisela Triana, the candidate with the inside track in this race, since she is already a judge and has most of the endorsements, says she does not know who put up the site. Mark Littlefield, campaign manager for the third candidate in the race, Associate Judge John Hathaway, says neither he nor anyone in their campaign had anything to do with the web site. By the way, Littlefield says, the majority of cases handled by Hathaway involve child custody. Many of those cases come to the court through Child Protective Services, he noted . . . Small world . . . Littlefield says he is friends with both Glenn Maxey and Mark Nathan. Maxey is Triana’s campaign consultant and Nathan works for Soifer. Littlefield says he worked for Nathan in the Ann Richards campaign in ‘94 shortly after graduating from college. “When this is all over, we’ll drink a beer,” he said . . . Today’s events . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley will join Congressman Lloyd Doggett at the South Austin Multipurpose Center, 2508 Durwood, at 9am today to talk about a federal program that has funded some upcoming improvements to a local health facility. The Council Audit and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 10:30am at City Hall. Their agenda includes reports on services provided by the city Law Department, Solid Waste Services and the Audit Department. They will also hear a report on the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) billing and settlement system . . . Tonight . . . The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center. Their agenda includes recommendations on the Brentwood/Highland Combined Neighborhood Plan. Tempers may rise at the Parks & Recreation Board meeting tonight as members try to deal with thorny issues presented by trying to divide money from the utility bill’s check-off—which has gone only to tree-planting in the past.

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