So Why Care About Austin's Strategic Mobility Plan
So what are the problems?
- Transportation is Austin's biggest problem. It's what people and businesses consistently rank No. 1 among their concerns in study after study.
- Traffic congestion is only going to get worse if we don't act now. The gap between our needs and our resources is growing wider. We can't afford to build enough roads, even if we could build them fast enough, to keep up with demand.
- Central Austin is facing gridlock. Downtown, the Capitol Complex, the UT campus area, and the adjoining neighborhoods are running out of room for the cars of all the people who want to be there - and the thousands who now or will soon live there.
So what is different about the Strategic Mobility Plan?
The Strategic Mobility Plan is creating a lot more transparency in the decision process. It is also about getting experts together with citizens to decide how we should make smart investments that offer a full range of real, practical mobility choices that suit their lifestyles and improve their lives. This is the beginning of huge shift the approach to transportation planning.
It's about more than "congestion" relief. People move around to work, live, learn and enjoy life. The lack of transportation choices in Austin does real damage to the city's treasured quality of life, its economic competitiveness, its environmental stewardship, and its ability to grow responsibly in the future.
We need to implement new solutions - including transit, pedestrian/bicycle projects, car and ride sharing, and travel demand management - to increase capacity and better manage this trend.
So What Does "Strategic" Really Mean?
Austin didn't just decide out of Central Texas' blue sky to become more "strategic." Federal, state, and regional policies have been headed in this direct for years. Even so, any significant step toward "strategic" decision making seems transformative and predictably will be controversial for those invested in the traditional approach to transportation. "Strategic" really just means deciding on real world outcomes people want and THEN deciding how to invest resources to accomplish those outcomes. For example, people care about sitting in traffic/congestion; but they also care about paying taxes, air quality, etc. So "strategic" requires an understanding of all the values people care about and then trying to maximize all of them, not just any one value.
Envision Central Texas, 2000 - 2004.
12,000 Central Texas residents agreed to a scenario with real world implications compared to present growth projected into the future:
Protection of environmentally sensitive areas and the natural beauty of Central Texas by:
- Using fewer acres of land for urban (and suburban) development
- Reducing the loss of agricultural and ranch land
- Reducing acres of new impervious surface
- Reducing acres of development in the Edwards Aquifer recharge and contributing zones
Increasing the efficiency of investments by focusing growth in urban areas by
- Accommodating more new households and employees through redevelopment
- Encouraging job growth in low-income areas
- Reducing public cost of infrastructure
- Reducing Acres of Urban Parks per capita
- Spreading employment through the region
- Reducing the tax burden for residents
CAMPO 2035 - Central Texas' Regional Transportation Plan, 2008 - 2010
Approved shifting 50% of the region's flexible funding to support ECT's "focused urban growth" framework.
- o Focus on 25 Activity Centers - areas where local jurisdictions really want to grow new jobs and households.
- o Manage infrastructure costs by prioritizing less costly options for transportation over entirely new construction of roads.
- o Focusing new "capacity" on connections between activity centers, rather than continuing to chase sprawl type development through the 5 counties.
U.S. DOT/HUD/EPA Created a New Strategic Plan With an Emphasis on "Livability"
This year alone US DOT, HUD, and EPA have already announced $175 million in competitive grants based on the new Livability Partnership and the US House of Representatives just approved $524 million more for this program next year.
This emphasis on Livability requires local applicants to:
- Use investments to do more. No longer can a transportation project be considered just a transportation project. The investment must truly improve people's access to places they want to go, while minimizing cost, environmental and neighborhood impacts, etc.
- Bust program and funding silos. Transportation, housing, and environment dollars can all be braided to accomplish better community outcomes.
"Livability," US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood said, "means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car." In other words, "livability" in the Secretary's mind means giving more people the option to live in a more urban environment where walking, biking and transit are realistic travel alternatives to using a car
The 2010 Transportation Bond is the first opportunity to see the Strategic Mobility Plan in action.
What's most notable isn't any one project, or even the 50-50 spending split between roads and other transportation modes - it's the rigor and transparency of the process. Two years ago, the city established a Transportation Department, which embarked on a strategic mobility plan (with a regional scope), engaged national transportation consulting expertise, and gathered community and professional input.
As Janes and Leffingwell both noted, that process has yielded a list of projects that jibe with larger community values - not just getting drivers from point A to point B. The preliminary recommended 2010 Transportation Bond Package scoring matrix (online, with a wealth of other information, at "www.austinstrategicmobility.com) assigned points to proposed projects according to eight values: mobility choices, efficiency, sustainable growth, regional integration, environmental stewardship, investment and economic development, neighborhood coordination and connectivity, and safety.
JUNE 25, 2010, City Announces 'Multimodal' Bond Package, BY KATHERINE GREGOR
What is the Controversy With the Bond Package?
The 2010 bond package is the first test of the Strategic Mobility Plan.
Watch interest groups providing comment (first item) to the Bond Taskforce - Video
Next Bond Taskforce meeting is July 7th 3:00 - 5:00 and will not be televised.
Why Is Austin Moving to a New Approach with the Strategic Mobility Plan?
Developing Stories: 'Every Day It's Getting Worse'
Strategic Mobility Plan marks a way out of permanent gridlock
MARCH 12, 2010
BY KATHERINE GREGOR
Crawling toward Downtown last week in 8:30am bumper-to-bumper traffic backed up for blocks on South Lamar, I had plenty of leisure time to reflect on transportation planning in Austin (and to wish I were traveling by bicycle, streetcar, or helicopter). The city is poised to plunge into the rail-transit business - with its central-city circulator Austin Urban Rail project - yet has barely dipped a toe into the transit-oriented development business. Transit-successful cities (e.g., Portland, Ore.) fund streetcars with tax-increment financing - bonds gradually paid off from the stream of increased property taxes that streetcar lines help create. Property values rise along the rail line, new mixed-use developments appear and desirable "place-making" occurs around rail stops, and the resulting increments of increased property tax base are captured to pay off the investment in rail.
But it doesn't all happen magically; it's got to be done just right . . .
One Step at a Time
A Feb. 25 briefing to City Council on the city's emerging Strategic Mobility Plan - recently showcased at community-input forums all around town - was cause for optimism. The city isn't just doing a planning exercise; it has reorganized, staffed up, budgeted, and marshaled the moxie to implement the plan's recommendations beginning in April. Launched just last year, the city's Transportation Department is beginning to tackle Austin's now-big-city mobility woes in a comprehensive fashion. All modes for getting from place A to place B - walking, bicycling, taking rail and bus transit, and driving - are being woven into one citywide mobility-solutions tapestry. We've talked about getting multimodal forever yet stayed stuck in traffic. Things are finally moving.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell, recognizing that a plan is only as strong as the dollars that sustain it, continues to advocate for a November 2010 transportation bond referendum. He said from the dais Feb. 25 that city demographic data indicates 1,500* people a day are now moving into Central Texas (50 of them within city limits) and adding their cars to already choked roads, so "every day it's getting worse." Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar cited recent data showing that central city roads are now at 100% capacity. Asserted the mayor, "Doing nothing is not an option."
How does Austin's Strategic Mobility Plan Compare with Other Major Metropolitan Areas?
Moving People - Denver's Strategic Transportation Plan
Read the full plan here