New Report Outlines Popular Mobility Proposals

Oct 8, 2015

From the Austin Monitor

Everyone is aware that Austin has major traffic problems, but not everyone agrees on how to fix them. A new report, however, may help bridge some of those gaps by presenting the 10 most popular ideas that community members generated and supported during an outreach effort earlier this year.

Mayor Steve Adler, City Council Member Ann Kitchen and others will attend a press conference Thursday morning to announce the release of the MobilityATX Findings Report, the outcome of a public-private partnership led by nonprofit think tank Glasshouse Policy aimed at mobilizing the public to help shape transportation policy in Austin.

The three most popular ideas presented in the report are to allocate the funding necessary to carry out the Austin Bicycle Master Plan that Council adopted in November, support a proposal to bury I-35 through the downtown core and create dedicated bus lanes in “high traffic corridors” all over the city.

The Bicycle Master Plan envisions a 247-mile, $152 million bicycle path network that would likely require a voter-approved bond. The effort to bury I-35, proposed by design firm Black + Vernooy, has been overshadowed by the Texas Department of Transportation’s 10-year I-35 plan that includes depressing the highway under 15th Street but would not go nearly as far.

Glasshouse Policy collected the ideas between April and July online at the MobilityATX forum, where it invited members of the public to propose mobility solutions on five different topics and “upvote” ideas they supported. It also held 20 in-person conversations on the issues – two per district – and a town hall meeting in June.

Francisco Enriquez, CEO of Glasshouse Policy, told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday what prompted the effort. “I think after the failure of Proposition 1, there was a tendency for stakeholders and folks to really retreat to the corners,” he said.

“In the absence of a clear Plan B from our city leaders,” Enriquez continued, “we wanted to put together a group of organizations and advocates and say, maybe we can work together through in-person and online engagement to create a new common table around which we can really source community priorities for the future of Austin mobility.”

Enriquez was referring to the November 2014 electoral defeat of a $1 billion bond proposition that would have put $600 million toward establishing an urban light rail line in Austin.

In its report, Glasshouse Policy staff wrote that Austinites either did not believe that light rail was the city’s top priority or did not agree with the proposed route, “depending on how you cut the pie.”

While light rail made it on to the top 10 list, it ranked in last place with 70 votes as compared to the 218 votes that funding the Bicycle Master Plan received in order to rank first.

“We must get cracking on planning a light-rail line that will serve the greatest number of riders on day one, and going forward,” reads one forum post written by a public participant. “We can’t give up on light rail just because the city floated a bad plan and voters shot that bad plan down. Bus Rapid Transit is not a substitute.”

The other policy ideas that made the top 10 involve removing all sidewalk exemptions, such as one that allows developers to pay a fee rather than construct a sidewalk; allowing for small-scale apartments all over the city, particularly in central neighborhoods; and removing parking minimums for development, potentially to be replaced with parking “maximums.”

Specific ideas that made the list are to fix Anderson Mill Road from FM 620 to SH 183; restore the original, higher frequency of local bus routes 1 and 3; and reinstate a service similar to the one provided by the “’Dillo,” a downtown, high-frequency shuttle that was dropped in 2009.

MobilityATX partners include the Capital Metropolitan Transit Authority, Leadership Austin and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. (The Austin Monitor is a media partner of MobilityATX.)

Enriquez explained what Glasshouse Policy would like to see come out of the report. “We hope that Council, the Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metro, and all regional and city stakeholders look at this as a tool in the tool kit, a road map for how they can progress in their own policy discussions,” he said.