Last month, the Austin City Council tentatively approved a $720 million mobility bond to invest in Austin’s transportation infrastructure. The bond includes $500 million for corridor improvement projects and $120 million for road, sidewalk, bike and transit infrastructure. Bike Austin has called the $20 million reserved for protected bike lanes and $55 million for sidewalks the biggest investment in bike and pedestrian projects in Austin’s history. The current mobility bond offers a significant step up from the $18 million that was invested in bike and pedestrian projects combined in 2010.
Austin clearly needs to do something about our transportation problems. A 2015 study by the Texas Department of Transportation naming Austin’s I-35 as the most congested roadway in the state, with a total annual congestion cost of $201.28 million. America’s transportion system accounts for 26% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, producing 9% more carbon dioxide per capita than Canada, nearly a third more than Australia and nearly three times that of the United Kingdom, France or Germany. As Texas prepares itself for increasingly frequent cases of global warming-fuelled extreme weather, environmental and economic pressures are mounting on the city to act.
In addition to bike lanes and sidewalks, the bond would invest in ‘smart corridors’- sections of highway with instillations such a queue jumps for buses on busy roads, separated bike paths and revisions to traffic signaling, all aimed at reducing idling time for drivers. Austin busiest intersections at North Lamar, South Lamar, Burnet Road and Airport Boulevard would all see these upgrades.
According to a report conducted in Oakland’s Bay Area, smart corridors have been hailed to enhance safety, reduce congesting and speed up transit travel time. The U.S. Department of Energy notes "idle reduction strategies can dramatically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide."
The bond package is supported by a broad coalition across the city. Two days prior to the bond being approved by council, Tony Budet, Chairman of the Austin Chamber of Commerce joined with environmental and bike advocates, at a City Hall event to remind listeners of the importance of transport to all Austinites in a rapidly growing, commercially competitive city. Budet’s statement echoed other voices who added economic arguments for alternative transport alongside environmentalists; Mayor Adler and President of the Board of Shoal Creek Conservancy Ted Siff had already expressed concern for the rate at which Austin is growing, the inability of the present road network to meet growing demand for transport.
Further advocates for investment in alternative transport came from the Get Austin Moving coalition – comprised of the Alliance for Public Transportation, Austin Metro Trails & Greenways, ATX Safer Streets, AURA, Austin Area Rapid Transit, Austin Environmental Democrats, AustinUP, Bike Austin, Bike Texas, Clean Water Action, Brazos Technology District, Clean Water Action, College Houses Cooperative, Evolve Austin, Hill Country Conservancy, Environment Texas, Metro Trails and Greenways, Reconnect Austin, Shoal Creek Conservancy, The Trail Foundation, VisionZeroATX and Waller Creek Conservancy.
The bond is especailly good news after it was announced on 22nd June that Austin had lost its bid for the Smart City title to Ohio, and the $50 million investment in transport that would come with it. Confident that plans would still go ahead, Adler commented ‘at the end of the day our future is not dependent on whether we win. We’re going to execute our plan whether we win or not.”
Siff commented “Austin’s mobility problems are perhaps the biggest single threat to community’s future quality of life. Our coalition is deeply concerned that if we don’t take action now – this year – to begin fixing our failing transportation system, our economy, our environment, public safety, housing affordability, and the character of the city will suffer over the long term.”
Holly Porteous is an international student from the UK who attended the University of Texas this past year.