Randy Machemehl

Photo Credit: Jenna Von Hofe | Daily Texan Staff

Eight groups of cyclists, drivers and engineers brainstormed design solutions to dangerous intersections identified by the City of Austin.

At the 2013 VeloTexas Bicycle Safety Intersection Design Workshop on Thursday, attendees examined eight of the 12 problematic intersections.

Lisa Smith, administrative associate at UT’s Center for Transportation Research, which hosted the event, said three of the problematic intersections UT students most likely travel through are Red River and Dean Keaton, Barton Springs and Riverside and South First and Barton Springs.

Reuben James, project engineer for consulting company HVJ Associates, said the main problem with the current Red River and Dean Keaton intersection is the presence of multiple conflict points, where the path of a bicyclist crosses with the path of a car, increasing the possibility for an accident.

“Primarily our biggest problem is we’re seeing our bicyclists having to cross multiple lanes of traffic,” James said.

Each team considered intersection geometry, pavement markings and signals when identifying safety issues and forming solutions.

Transportation engineering professor Randy Machemehl said there is currently a lack of guidance for Austin cyclists in intersections, leaving them to decide on their own how to navigate road intersections.

“Typically, if you take a bike safety course, the instructor will probably tell you if there’s a delineated bicycle lane,” Machemehl said. “It’ll probably stop some distance before the intersection and the safest thing to do is to assume a position in the travel lane and basically act like a car.”

Smith said the workshop aims to educate attendees on intersection design.

“The goal is to teach people about how to design intersections and the number one goal is to come up with a few ideas about how to enhance bicycle safety through intersections,” Smith said.

Machemehl said that in recent years, bicycling has become a more popular mode of transportation, which has led to increased concern regarding its safety.

“There is an increase in bicycle riding across the country,” Machemehl said. “Austin is having more of an increase than other cities due in part to the fact that our weather is better.”

According to Machemehl, Texas bikers reported 2,700 cases of injury in the most recent year statistics were collected, but the number underestimates the dangers cyclists face because it doesn’t detail near-misses.

“In Texas and most other states, reports on accidents are only required if there was an injury,” Machemehl said. “If there was no injury, the accident may not get into anyone’s database.”

Every time someone buys a candy bar or drink from a vending machine on campus, the profits from the sale allow faculty members to ride Capital Metro buses for free, according to Randy Machemehl, transportation engineering professor and a Shuttle Bus Committee faculty representative.

But as people on campus buy less from vending machines, UT’s Parking and Transportation Services — the entity that manages the vending machines — could face future funding problems.

“As more and more people use the Capital Metro service, the availability of those vending machine funds are probably not going to be adequate to pay all those costs, so we’re going to have to come up with another way to pay all that,” Machemehl said.

The University pays $222,933.05 annually for faculty and staff members to ride mainline CapMetro bus routes, and all of that funding comes directly from vending machine sales. The University also pays $996,135 for students to ride the buses, but this money comes from Student Services fees, according to Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation Services’ alternative transportation manager.

CapMetro provides both mainline buses, which are general city buses, and shuttles, which are specific to the University. CapMetro recently announced it will discontinue service for the Wickersham Lane route and reduce service on its Cameron Road line beginning in January.

Machemehl said the number of people using mainline services to commute to and from campus is increasing, but vending machine profits are decreasing.

“The number of vending machine sales is not increasing — people are carrying water bottles all the time instead of buying Cokes, I guess,” Machemehl said.

Machemehl said the University’s bus ride funding for its students, faculty and staff helps solve parking issues and decreases air congestion.

“It helps solve the basic parking problem on campus because we have somewhere around 15,000 spaces and somewhere around 70,000 people that come here every day, so obviously most people can’t park here,” Machemehl said. “Anything that we can do to convince people to use a mode other than driving a car is going to help everybody.”

CapMetro provided mainline bus rides to 284,198 UT students, faculty and staff in April 2013, according to CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala.

Route 1, the bus that takes people from the West Mall to downtown Austin, is the most popular mainline bus route among UT students, faculty and staff. In April 2013, 54,056 students, faculty and staff took this route, according to Ayala.

The route that UT riders use the least is route 970 — in all of April 2013, only three UT riders were served, Ayala said.

Machemehl said the University’s mainline service funding brings in people who otherwise might not ride CapMetro buses. 

“I would imagine that if suddenly all of the people who are benefitting from that had to pay out of their own pocket, we’d probably see a significant decrease … on the number of people using mainline transit service, so I think it’s a good thing,” Machemehl said.

Machemehl said more UT students and staff members are using mainline bus services than in previous years.

“I heard the other day at a meeting that the number of people using mainline service to get to and from campus has been increasing — I think I heard 7.5 percent increase in the last couple of years,” Machemehl said. “There seems to be a small decrease … in vending machine profits. I guess it also tells you the story about how stressed the University is in terms of funds.”

Photo Credit: Jack Mitts | Daily Texan Staff

The pattern of shuttle bus closures will continue if University funding to Capital Metro does not increase.

The Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane shuttle routes will close within the next year because of low ridership, and the Pickle Research Campus route may be next. This route has the fewest riders, so people who use this route might transition to using the 803 Burnet/South Lamar MetroRapid route in mid-2014, CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said.

The student shuttle bus committee approved the cancellation of the Pickle Research Campus shuttle route in mid-2014, but CapMetro officials have not formed a service change proposal for this route, Ayala said.

Blanca Juarez, Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman, said the University and CapMetro equally split the total running cost of the shuttle system, which is $6,279,492 for the 2013-2014 year.

“If operational costs increase, then our fee, based on our 50/50 split, would increase proportionally,” Juarez said. “Our funding comes from the Student Services Fee Committee. Our reoccurring funding … has not increased since 2008. As our costs increase, we will either have to receive additional funding or make adjustments to service.”

Randy Machemehl, transportation engineering professor and a Shuttle Bus Committee faculty representative, said the relationship between CapMetro and the University is mutually beneficial. The University receives a subsidized service from CapMetro while CapMetro benefits from the high number of university students.

“Their ridership statistics look quite good compared to other systems, and one of the primary reasons for that is the shuttle system is included in their ridership statistics,” Machemehl said. “That’s why they’re willing to put money into it. It’s a good cooperative arrangement.”

Machemehl said the shuttles are funded through the student services fee that students pay with their tuition.

“If the level of those fees remains constant, and we actually increase the number of students registered here, then the total value in that account would increase,” Machemehl said. “But of course increasing the number of students that we allow to enter our university brings on other issues … so that’s not a simple solution at all, but that’s a potential solution.”

Students who choose their housing based on bus availability should focus on nearby mainline routes, in case of further shuttle closings, Machemehl said.

“[Choosing housing based on shuttle routes is] still an appropriate thing to do … [but students should] try to choose places that are also pretty convenient to regular Capital Metro routes because they will continue to be there for sure,” Machemehl said.

The University also contributes money to CapMetro to fund mainline services for students and faculty. The University uses profits from vending machines, Machemehl said, but while the number of people using the bus services increases, the number of vending machine sales remains constant.

“As more and more people use the Capital Metro service, the availability of those vending machine funds are not going to be adequate to pay all of those costs, so we’re going to have to come up with another way to pay all that,” Machemehl said.

Ninety-seven shuttle buses run along 17 different shuttle routes and the average number of monthly riders is 400,000, Juarez said. 

Many students may head to Sixth Street on the weekend, but not everyone can get there on his or her own. Students often rely on several E-Bus routes to get downtown, but recent changes to the stops might leave them stranded.

The routes of the E-Buses — short for Eating and Entertainment Bus — have recently changed and may cause some confusion for students, since the Capital Metro website has not yet been updated.

“There’s a delay,” CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said. “The website updates take time and will be caught up as soon as possible.”

There are three E-Bus routes: 410, 411 and 412. All the routes previously dropped off and picked up at Seventh Street and San Jacinto Boulevard. The 410 & 412 have moved to Seventh Street and Neches Street, and the 411 will now be at Sixth Street and Brazos Street.

Biology sophomore Dulce Vasquez was one of many students who had trouble finding the new bus locations on time.

“[A friend and I] were down there last weekend and went to the old bus stop first,” Vasquez said. “There were a bunch of people there and then somebody started saying the bus wasn’t going to stop there. My friend found the new stop on her phone and we had to haul it down there. We barely caught the last bus of the night.”

Ayala said the changes to the E-Bus routes were implemented to maximize efficiency in the busy area downtown.

“We were operating at the old locations for some time and we’ve had ongoing discussions with adjacent businesses about the location,” Ayala said. “Due to the amount of students and buses, the new stops were better located.”

The route changes come at a time when other route disruptions are sparking public debate. CapMetro announced Aug. 28 that the UT shuttle routes near the Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane areas would be canceled in spring of 2014.

Transportation engineering professor Randy Machemehl, who has spent several years as a faculty member on the UT Committee on Parking Strategies, said funding problems have caused recent route changes and cuts within the UT shuttle bus system.

“The basic issue we have been dealing with for a couple of years now is that the funding for the shuttle comes through the student services fee,” Machemehl said. “The fees committee has not been able to increase the amount of money that goes to the shuttles. Meanwhile, the cost of running the shuttles has gone up.”

Machemehl said he thinks further routes will be cut until the budget is changed. 

“We’re trying to make sure nobody loses access to campus,” Machemehl said. “Shuttle routes will continue to be replaced by Capital Metro. In the future there will have to be an increase in student services fees.”

Ayala said the E-Bus route changes were not affected by the UT shuttle budget because they are operated separately by CapMetro.

For now, students may have a hard time adjusting to the new E-Bus stops, but Ayala said CapMetro has no plans to move them again soon.

“We have permanently moved the pick-up and drop-off,” Ayala said.

UT will make lectures and course materials available for free in its new partnership with Apple’s iTunes U, which already offers more than 500,000 educational resources.

The iTunes U platform allows participating universities to distribute their content around the world. Students can access UT content on a range of topics with lectures and content from four of its 17 colleges and schools and additional content from the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Division of Student Affairs. The College of Natural Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Education and the Cockrell School of Engineering have course material posted on the service. Their collections include audio and video from lectures and material from departments and libraries across the University.

Unlike edX, a nonprofit distributor of interactive online courses that UT partnered with earlier this month, iTunes U content is not offered in course format, said Noel Strader, director of educational technology in the Center for Teaching and Learning. Instead, iTunes U offers individual lectures and podcasts to anyone without requiring users to enroll. Strader said UT joined the service to make some of its resources available to current students and the outside world.

“There are all kinds of great lectures out there, not only from UT but from other institutions,” Strader said. “Students can use iTunes U to get information while studying for a class.”

Engineering professor Randy Machemehl said he began using iTunes U to collaborate with a former student working as the Dean of Engineering at the University of Jordan. Machemehl said he shares his teaching materials with instructors at the University of Jordan who then use them as a supplement to their own lectures.

“It turns out that the lectures are also handy for students in my class,” Machemehl said. “Plus the price is right. It’s free.”

Engineering assistant professor Michael Webber said he is not paid to post lectures, but rather makes them available digitally as a way to increase their availability to the broader public. As part of one of his courses, Webber requires students to produce podcasts on energy technology and policy, which he publishes on iTunes U.

“I think iTunes U is benefiting students by increasing the exposure of their work,” Webber said. “It also helps other students and prospective students who want to access the information but can’t afford to enroll in the University.”

Printed on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 as: UT, iTunes U team up to offer free content