Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the Air with Fred

Recently Capital Metro's President/CEO Fred Gilliam sat down (over the phone) with KLBJ-AM news director Todd Jeffries to discuss a number of topics, including MetroRail, sales tax revenue, the recently approved line of credit, service changes, roadeo results and more. In a world of 10-second sound bites, it's always a refreshing opportunity to have a long-form conversation about several important issues. You can hear the interview on Todd's blog. Read more

Friday, May 29, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...

It always seems to start out the same way. I wake up, remember that this is a day that I'm supposed to ride my bike to work, and soon my half-awake brain begins to work to find an excuse for why I can't. Then, after some coffee gets me thinking a bit more lucidly, I recall all the reasons why I do bicycle:
  • good for me physically (love that fact that I can kill two birds with one stone by getting in my exercise while also doing the mandatory commute to work);
  • good for the environment (less than six miles each way isn't much driving but it adds up); and
  • good for me mentally (as the other bloggers have noted the level of interaction with the environment around you is MUCH more engaging on a bike).

So I usually manage to overcome my own mental inertia to do the easy thing (drive) and away I go on the bike. Of course nowadays it's especially good to ride because my kids get to ride too, and we get to enjoy a few minutes of quality time together in the open air rather than in the car before they stop off at school...and they sure seem to fight less when biking than when stuck in the back seat together!

Back to the opening point- every time I ride, without exception, I'm glad I did. So why the heck is it that my brain tries to come up with excuses not to do it? Sure, maybe it takes a little extra prep time to pack my courier bag with my work clothes. I have to be careful to fold my shirt so it doesn't come out all wrinkled and to not forget things like a belt or socks (which I've done and felt goofy all day long without). And yes, it's true that biking burns calories which generate heat which makes me sweat, but I have a place to change clothes and towel off and cool down before putting on my work clothes, so it's not really a big deal. As I like to joke, the side benefit of riding is that my meetings tend to be really short on those days (all the while hoping that I'm not really stinky)! Yes, riding the bike can complicate the situation when I have meetings out of the office, but that can be overcome by riding the bus or catching a ride. And finally, riding does take more time than driving, but in reality the difference is piddling, less than 15 minutes extra time in the worst case and sometimes fewer than ten.

Clearly the benefits far outweigh the costs. So again, why the internal resistance? Perhaps it's a metaphor for a broader phenomenon of the human condition (or at least mine)- the innate desire to go with the known, the easy, the safe, the comfortable, the routine. As I've learned through biking to work and in countless other ways, though, that is not the recipe for a fulfilled life. No, instead it's to push, to challenge, to try new things, and to explore. So, as they say, get on your bike and ride!
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If You Build It...

Austin-based high tech company Valence is interested in building a new production facility in Leander. One of the company's big attractions is the proposed site's proximity to Capital Metro's passenger and freight rail line. Here are a couple of yesterday's TV news stories about it:

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities?

Back in the early '90's I worked as a bus driver in the city of Los Angeles. There were differences and similarities with how the buses in L.A. and buses here in Austin went about doing the same thing, that is, picking up and dropping off passengers.

One of the differences was in how we operated buses in downtown. In L.A. we didn't pick-up passengers at every corner. We pick-upped at every other corner. But there were bus stops at every corner.

Here's how it worked. Let's say, for fun, that you are the bus driver. And your route goes along 1st Street. Your stops would be on Los Angeles, Spring and Hill Streets, but you would skip Main, Broadway and Olive Streets. There are always other buses along your route and the stops you skipped would belong to those. But you, as the operator, would not stay in line behind the bus in front of your bus like we do so here in Austin. After you picked-up passengers, you change lanes and move in front of the other bus, which in turn, will move in front of your bus after boarding people. I always thought of it as playing leapfrog. It worked well.

I have to add that a city block in L.A. is longer than here in Austin. I can walk from 2nd to 3rd Streets while holding my breath. I'll use Austin for an example. If you, as the bus operator, picked-up folks at 11th Street, your next stop would be at Cesar Chavez Street. That is about how far apart the bus stops are in downtown L.A.

I'll end this tale of two cities with a quote from someone I love. "A-du-a-du-a-ta-a-ta-that's all folks."
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hidden treasures, as discovered from a bike

I love riding my bike to work. I love it because if nothing good happens at work on a day that I ride, at least riding my bike was one good thing—two if you count the ride there and the ride home. But I also love it because it gives me an opportunity to appreciate so many surprising little things that I might not even have ever noticed had I been driving.

On my way home, I love to poke around and turn left or turn right, wherever I want to go. Even in a car, I’m not one to take the most expedient route but on a bike, the scenic route lures me even more.

So I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite things I see when I ride. Maybe you can figure out where they are.

This bird. I love this bird. I see him when riding between work and downtown.

And this? This is my tag. "So what," you say, but it’s the perfect example of something I never noticed in my car—and it’s my tag! A friend who rides his bike to work every day pointed it out to me, and not until my pedal-pushing friend told me about it, did I see it. Now I pass by and take such pride in the quick handiwork that someone else did, but which I can jokingly claim as my own. Here’s to you, T.B.

This drawing reminds me of Edward Gorey’s work, which I think is fantastic! This sticker decorates one hip person's mailbox.

Speaking of Gorey, I’ve learned to be OK with cemeteries, at least Oakwood Cemetery, which I ride by on my way home. I used to be really scared of cemeteries when I was a kid but now I love to pass by and look at the names on the tombstones, put them together and make up characters who I think would be perfect for William Faulkner novels. My absolute favorite at Oakwood is a headstone inscribed with the last name of “Numbers.” Can’t you see it? A tragic Faulkner character: Mr. Numbers. (Or I guess a potential nemesis of James Bond.) The first name I have chosen from another headstone goes especially well with Mr. Numbers’ last name but you should ride by there yourself and pick your own first name for Mr. Numbers.

But the absolute best thing about riding a bike is the people. People are a zillion times nicer when you’re on a bike. In a car, you’re just a big, ol’ anonymous hunk of steel that makes noise and stinks. Friendly people are a huge perk, like this gentleman who's always on his porch and who always waves at me and all the bike-riders, as if he's known us all for years. He has the friendliest smile and I always enjoy going home that way. (When I stopped and chatted with him one day, and asked to take his photo for this blog, I learned that his 93rd (!) birthday is next week so I’ll have to take that route home then to say happy birthday.)

Well, here are the last few treasures that I've found on my way home that I'll share. (The Shoe Shine mural is the only image for which I can acknowledge the artist, who is the obviously talented Tonya Engel. The somewhat illegible phrase on the plywood reads, "Wavy Days," which I feel like I have a lot of.)

Even appreciating these little things makes me more able to appreciate everything else in my life. So I encourage you to hop on your bike, or just take a really leisurely stroll, and make a point to look for things that you might not otherwise ever see or pay much attention to. I guarantee it will make your day a much better one. Read more

Friday, May 15, 2009

I Ride

It was a beautiful morning to be out on a bicycle.

Last year I rode my bike to work a handful of times. This year for whatever reason I haven’t gotten into the habit. I don't have a good excuse if the weather's nice -- Capital Metro at 5th and Pleasant Valley is only 6.3 miles from my house in South Austin and I can ride most of it along the Town Lake Trail on Lady Bird Lake. The gravel trail means I have to work a little harder than if I stayed on pavement but the tradeoff of not having to dodge traffic is worth it.

So this morning I pulled the bike out from the back of the garage, dusted off the cobwebs and set off. Pumping up the tires and getting my “Go” bag ready took a little time and I was running late, so I passed within yards of the Bike to Work Day celebration at City Hall without stopping for a free breakfast taco. Sounded like they had a crowd of people out there though.

My favorite part of any run or ride around Town Lake Trail is the section on the north side of the lake, east of I-35. It’s so quiet and peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle of the trail on both sides of the lake from Austin High to the Ann Richards Bridge. This morning I encountered a few other cyclists, a couple of fishermen, one or two people sitting at picnic tables, and a handful of pedestrians and runners along this quieter stretch but very little else except birds and trees. Riding along there is good way to begin the day.

This evening after work my plan is to ride up to the Intramural Fields to join some friends for some pickup soccer. After a couple of hours of soccer at my age I’ll likely have trouble even walking TO my bike – never mind pedaling it home. I’ll walk or pedal over to Lamar and 51st and put my bike and tired self on the # 3 southbound to get me back to the neighborhood. Wake me when we get to Artz Rib House.

National Bike to Work Day is a good reminder to me that with a little bit of planning lots of us could find healthier ways to get to work – healthier for us and healthier for the environment. I wish there were free tacos every day though.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bike to Work Day: Tomorrow

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day. Wouldn't it be great if tomorrow during morning rush hour, there were more bikes out on our streets than cars?!

I've got my route planned out and hope to bike the whole way, but just in case I get tired, I've also noted where along my route I could catch a bus if needed. All of our buses (except the 'Dillo trolleys) have bike racks, and it's easy to load/unload your bike. If you've never "biked by bus" before, you can check out the easy how-to on our Web site.

I had heard there was a bike shop in town that had a standard bus bike rack in the store so people could practice (without the pressure of traffic zooming by). I thought it was Mellow Johnny's but turns out it's not. Does anyone know which shop, if any, provides that?

But. I did learn that Mellow Johnny's provides bike commuters hot showers, and while you're getting cleaned up, they'll tuneup your bike, provide you a storage locker, and give you a free cup of coffee (on Fridays). All for $1. Pretty cool.

They're also on the list of organizations providing FREE breakfast to cyclists tomorrow. Check out the full list of breakfast locations.

Hope to see you on two wheels tomorrow!
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Good News for MetroRapid

Last week, Capital Metro learned that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has recommended $17.39 million in funding for MetroRapid. The funding is a part of President Barack Obama’s FY2010 budget, which must still be approved by Congress.

MetroRapid was one out of 10 new or expanding transit projects that the FTA recommended for funding. This announcement was a welcomed surprise. We submitted the project just nine months ago; and we were not anticipating possible funding this early in the process.

Initial service will operate on two of the busiest corridors: North Lamar/South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar. The project cost for these first two routes is an estimated $47 million. Capital Metro is still pursuing more federal funding, up to $37 million.

Capital Metro plans to start the procurement process for MetroRapid buses later this year. Staff is considering a combination of 40-foot and 60-foot vehicles. The buses will be equipped with signal priority technology to keep traffic lights green as they approach major intersections.

For more on the MetroRapid system, visit our web site.
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MetroRail Media

Here's a sample of some of yesterday's TV news coverage about MetroRail.

You can see the complete stories on each station's web site:

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Capital MetroRail Progress Report

Capital Metro just released its community report about MetroRail status and next steps. I may post more a bit later--we'll be at Howard Station later this morning to answer questions from the media, and I know you'll have some comments, too. Read more

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Yelpers Discuss Capital Metro

A customer named Michele sent us this link to a rather interesting thread on Yelp about Capital Metro.

The comments touch on everything from what people like and don't like about Capital Metro, to a more philosophical discussion about whether there is a stigma attached to riding the bus. Some of the suggestions posted for us are things we would also like to accomplish for the city, the region, and specifically, our customers. But one thing to keep in mind, and I'm sure people realize this but maybe it's worth mentioning again, with limited resources, we have to prioritize some things. Particularly over the next year or so, which we anticipate to be financially tight, we simply can't meet everyone's needs.

But we always appreciate the feedback and the discussion. Join in!
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Prepping for Bike to Work Day

This week is Bike to Work Week, and I'll be a poseur riding along with Austin's community of bicycle commuters this coming Friday, Bike to Work Day.

I've got an old beater Diamondback hand-me-down whose only frequent tasks have been getting me safely to my favorite neighborhood haunt Polvos and Zilker park, neither of which is more than a mile from home. Still, after reaching my destination, particularly the park, where I tend to travel down Barton Springs Road and have to cross Lamar, my nerves are in hyper-mode. I'm--at best--a bike novice, and frankly cars freak me out. I've never attempted to ride my bike during rush hours before.

So, I have some challenges to overcome to effectively commute to work. Fortunately, there are some great resources I (and anyone else who may be a little tentative) can take advantage of this week.

The downtown REI is hosting a free class tomorrow night, Bike Commuting 101, beginning at 7 p.m.

My main concern is finding the safest route to take (but one that doesn't add a ton of extra miles to the trip), and that is one of the topics covered in the REI class. I've also discovered the city's Bike Route Map which should be helpful.

Staff from the city's Bicycle Program will teach a bicycle handling drills class this Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Butler Park (by Palmer Events Center). I don't think I can make that one, but it looks good--basic starting/stopping techniques. See more of the city's Bike Month events from their Web site.

Finally, for a little incentive to get moving, a bunch of organizations will be providing free breakfast for cyclists on Friday morning (7 - 9 a.m.). Check out a mapped list of locations courtesy of the Austin Cycling Association. Incidentally, the ACA teaches a Traffic Skills 101 class that includes a half-day of classroom instruction and then a half-day of on-bike training.
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On the Busy Number 1 Route

Don't call me Ishmael.

In his adventurous novel, "Moby Dick," Herman Melville's protagonist Ishmael tells us why he feels the need to go to sea. He says in part, "Whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul...and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper-hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking people's hats off---then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball."

How ghastly. I have never felt an urge, not even an iota of one, to assault people, even when my hypos have had me in a sturdy headlock. And certainly I have never felt a "damp, drizzly November" in any part of my soul. When I do I'll make sure to buy more life insurance.

Poor Ishmael. He would not have made a good bus operator. It would stress him out easily. Especially if he had to work the number 1 route, which I do every weekday after I finish the Leander Express.

The number 1 is our busiest line. I drive the 1L, which goes from Tech Ridge Park & Ride at Howard Lane to Southpark Meadows, at the new shopping center at Slaughter and I-35. On the map in the schedule booklet it looks almost like the Mississippi River.

Because it is so busy and taxing on operators, I had to look at it from another angle and see what it affords me. I found a prize. It is ripe with opportunity to help others. Like assisting a visually-impaired man cross a busy downtown street so he can hop on another bus; helping an elderly lady unload her groceries; helping a young mom carry the stroller on board; helping confused out-of-towners with information; or, helping all my passengers by staying on time so they won't miss their connecting route. These opportunities, as they pop-up, I hit out of the park like a slugger. Because I know if I allow one opportunity to help someone go without my aid, I will never get it back.
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Friday, May 8, 2009

Faster Trains Coming Your Way: "Look, Listen, Live"

As soon as this weekend, Capital MetroRail trains will be traveling more frequently and at higher speeds during testing along the 32-mile line from Leander to Downtown Austin.

MetroRail trains are much quieter and faster than freight trains. The passenger rail trains will soon be operating at speeds up to 60 mph in some areas.

Remember the three "L's" when you approach crossings: Look, Listen, Live. Please, too, remind children that tracks are for trains.

More life-saving tips are listed behind the cut.
When you're in a vehicle...
• Never stop your vehicle on railroad tracks. It is illegal to stop a vehicle on railroad tracks.
• Always obey all traffic signs and signals at grade crossings. The train has the right of way – look both ways before crossing.
• Never drive around lowered gates. It's illegal and deadly. If the gate is down, the road is closed.

When you're walking...
• Always stop, look, and listen for trains before crossing the tracks and be sure to look both ways.
• Never walk down a train track. It's illegal and dangerous. It can take a mile or more to stop a freight train, so by the time an engineer can see a trespasser or a vehicle on the tracks, it is too late.
• Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and obey all warning signs and signals. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.

If you have children...
• Talk to them about railroads and teach the importance of crossing the tracks safely. "Stop, look and listen" is an important message for them to understand.
• Know the facts. Make sure that everyone in your family knows all these safety rules.

Visit or for more information on Capital MetroRail safety.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Transit Planner's commute via bike

iRide the bus because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing (as a Capital Metro employee), and (hopefully) makes me a better transit planner. I ride my bike because it benefits Central Texas, costs me nothing, and provides a fun challenge. Though I have to admit, it is definitely more enjoyable riding downhill to our East Austin office in the morning than battling the afternoon heat, hills, and traffic.

On days when I’m not up for the full 8-mile trek homeward, I end up biking through the shaded Govalle neighborhood to pick up the #350 Airport Blvd., which works out well unless the bike rack is full. Another preferred multi-modal option consists of the Lance Armstrong Bikeway (East 4th and 5th Streets) to Downtown and boarding whichever northbound bus arrives first. When MetroRail opens this summer, I will be one of many taking advantage of the 15-18 minute travel time from Crestview to Saltillo/Downtown.

Both the City of Austin Bike Program and Capital Metro boast extensive and for the most part, complementary, route networks but as the area continues to expand and densify, it is essential to adjust accordingly. City of Austin is in the process of adopting Austin 2020 Bicycle Plan, and Capital Metro is currently in the early stages of developing ServicePlan2020. Both efforts will identify and recommend which changes need to occur to improve each system and increase ridership.

Enough planning talk. Riding a bike is fun. Pick a day to give up your car this month. Air up the old 18-speed and make your way to that bus stop you claim is beyond walking distance. The environmental and personal benefits easily outweigh the sore legs.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

National Bike Month

May is National Bike Month. Next week is Bike to Work Week, and next Friday is Bike to Work Day. At Capital Metro we love cyclists and we support Austin's commitment to a bike-friendly city. Look for posts all month long about bicycling and Capital Metro.

This month we'll revisit the basics of "biking by bus" on Capital Metro, meet some Capital Metro staff who cycle to work, and hear a smattering of other interesting bike tales. Stay tuned!
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Monday, May 4, 2009

The June Jump

Capital Metro was recognized during the opening session of the American Public Transportation Association annual conference in Seattle yesterday. We received a 2009 Bus Safety Awards Certificate of Merit for a bus operator safety program that has been successful in reducing collisions.

Since 2005, Capital Metro has implemented a safety outreach program each May and June to combat what we've called the June Jump. Data for several years prior to 2005 showed that collision accidents spiked every year during June. Other transit agencies in Texas all experienced the same phenomenon. Our safety team, led by Director of Safety & Security Mark Ostertag, researched the factors that may contribute to accidents in June, and developed a tailored bus operator training program to help curb the June Jump. Consequently, in the first two years after implementing the program, June accidents dropped 53 percent from the average of the three years prior.

You may be wondering, like I was, what makes June more hazardous than other months.
1. School is out. A greater number of higher-risk (teen) drivers are out on the road.
2. It starts getting really hot in June, and studies have shown that as temperatures rise, so does aggressive behavior.
3. June has the longest hours of daylight of the entire year, and glare is a significant concern during June.
4. June is the peak of vacation season, and out-of-town vacationers (who may be unfamiliar with our streets, or trying to read a map while they drive) driving around Austin increase by several thousand.
5. June is consistently one of the two highest months for DWI and DUI arrests.
6. Austin receives the second highest amount of rainfall in June, and wet roads make for slippery roads.
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Friday, May 1, 2009

Arthur tries for Four

Capital Metro Bus Operator Arthur Murillo is in Seattle, Washington, to defend his title in the 2009 International Bus Roadeo. Arthur has won the international title in the 35-foot bus competition three times. He'll attempt tomorrow to rack up a fourth title.

Earlier today, Arthur was interviewed by Seattle Public Radio Station KOUW. Listen to the interview below.

You may be familiar with Arthur: in recognition of his third championship win last year, Capital Metro designed a bus wrap in his honor. Arthur was also voted "Best Bus Driver" in the Austin Chronicle's readers' poll.
But Arthur isn't the only one representing Capital Metro at the International Bus Roadeo this week. Bus Operator Abdelkader Tenouri is competing in the 40-foot category, and Mechanics Mike Clements, Phillip O’Neal, and Gary Hosea will compete in the Vehicle Maintenance competition.

Good Luck, Capital Metro!
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