A bus stop ≠ transit access

One of the big problems in debates over development in Austin is the fact that relatively few of the key decision-makers, either on the land use commissions or City Council, know or think much about public transit. That’s largely because there are pitifully few transit users in those positions.

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As a result, many who support the idea of transit have a hard time assessing whether a given area has good access to bus routes. A zoning case that I recently covered at the Planning Commission was a good example. It involves a proposed 300-unit apartment complex on Shady Lane, near the intersection of Airport and Bolm.  Both the developer and a couple of the Planning Commissioners touted the nearby bus access on Airport.

Here was my analysis:

The proposed site is 0.3 miles from a stop for the 350 bus route on Airport Boulevard, which runs south to Montopolis and north to the North Loop neighborhood but does not go downtown. It only runs every 30 minutes and is not slated to be one of the frequent routes (at least every 15 minutes) under the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s overhaul of the bus routes that will be implemented in June. At the very least, however, that route will allow commuters heading downtown to transfer to No. 18, which will become a “frequent” route.

The distance itself isn’t that bad. It’s just a tad higher than the max distance recommended by national standards: .25 miles. Expecting somebody to walk 0.3 miles might sound reasonable –– we could all use a little more exercise –– but asking them to make that walk and then wait in triple-digit temperatures for a bus that only comes every half-hour is a much taller order. Even if they’re willing to brave all of that, they’re only in good shape if they’re heading somewhere on Airport or East Riverside. If the very likely scenario that they have to go to work downtown, they’ve got to make a transfer.

In another case I wrote about the following day, the proposed 125-unit apartment complex was 0.6 miles away from the nearest bus stop. As an agent for the developer noted, that meant that it was too far away by 0.1 mile to qualify as a SMART (Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented) development.

I tried looking into it on Google Maps, which is tough since the address in question is a 27-acre vacant lot. It’s hard to figure out how far away actual residents would be from the nearest bus stop without knowing exactly where on that lot the housing would be placed and whether some kind of trail or street would be built to provide better pedestrian connectivity to surrounding streets.

All of that being said…Google Maps says that the nearest bus stop is 1.1 miles to a stop on the 228 Route, which is a “feeder” route that comes every 35-45 minutes. From there the 228 takes you on a westward journey across South Austin, which might be useful to you, but if you want to go downtown (that place where a lot of people work), you’d have to transfer to the 801 route on South Congress. All of that would be a pretty long transit trek –– you’d have to be pretty determined/desperate to pick that over a car trip.

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Those details often get lost in discussion over “transit access.” If you live across the street from a bus stop, technically you have “access to transit.” But it’s likely transit that is not useful to you.

UPDATE: In June, when the Connections 2025 bus changes go into effect, the site on Nuckols Crossing will become even more isolated from transit. The 228 is being relocated entirely. The closest route to the Nuckols Crossite site, however, will at least be a good one: Route 7, which is frequent and goes downtown. But to get to it a future resident will have to take a loooong walk down E. St. Elmo or S. Pleasant Valley. It will probably be about a mile to the closest stop.

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