AURA Response to the Draft Austin Strategic Mobility Plan

AURA sent the letter below to the Austin Transportation Department and members of Austin City Council on January 13, 2019. 

AURA, a grassroots organization that believes in an Austin for Everyone, began its existence as a transit advocacy organization. Since then, we have released multiple reports and engaged in continual advocacy around transportation and transit issues. The Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) will be a key document in shaping the future of Austin. As it stands, our current mobility policies have largely led to unaffordable, disconnected, unhealthy, unsafe, and environmentally destructive sprawl.  With the ASMP, especially in combination with land use reforms, we can begin charting a new courseone that includes environmental justice and greenhouse gas reductions, economic vitality, effective transit, and safer, more walkable communities everywhere.

The draft ASMP needs significant work to get to that point. There are nods to many good, if vague, policies throughout the written document, but it nowhere lays out the overarching vision and clear policy priorities that we need to get to a brighter future.  There are tradeoffs in many of the decisions that must be made about mobility: “prioritizing multimodal solutions” and a “culture of safety” are not necessarily compatible with “increasing highway person-carrying capacity,” since highways are the locus of a large percentage of our automotive-related deaths and serious injuries.  

Policies that do not aim to set clear, measurable goals, with baselines and projected improvements, are incredibly hard to evaluate. Without that guidance, and a clear hierarchy of priorities, and when there are too many general policy pronouncements, virtually any decision can point to whichever policy best justifies it. These policies will guide technical documents including new Street Design Guide and the Transportation Criteria Manual. These are critical documents that will determine street safety, development patterns, and Austin’s environmental footprint, potentially for decades. But these manuals get very little concrete direction from the policies enumerated. By contrast the Strategic Housing Blueprint identified clear goals for the production of different types of housing, and the Watershed Master Plan shows specifics of the types of watershed projects that need to occur and where. The ASMP needs to follow a similar track and provide much more clarity.

To deliver the kind of city that is mandated in Imagine Austin and countless resolutions since, the goals of the ASMP should include:

  • Clear mandates on reducing Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and greenhouse gases
  • Policies that prioritize safety, including clear targets of when and how Austin will accomplish its VisionZero goals.  
  • Prioritizing transit, cycling, and other low-environmental impact mobility solutions over single occupancy vehicles, including targets on improving modeshare for those alternatives.  
  • Efficiently managing parking in line with current best practices.
  • Remove all ‘crash gates’. The city must reject a handful of vocal residents to disconnect a neighborhood.
  • Initiate a Streets Master plan to identify and reconnect the traditional streets grid in addition to mapping street grids for future subdivisions.
  • Disallow subdivision approval without full connectivity.
  • The city should plan major protected bike/scooter highways that connect Downtown/UT to other parts of the city.
  • Moratorium on new traffic signals, explore small scale roundabouts instead.
  • Specific direction to reduce/eliminate parking minimums, and ideally enact parking maximums
  • Identify more east-west streets for 4->3 road diets and protected bike lanes.
  • Remove road widenings in the Barton Springs Zone. In particular, the Oak Hill parkway must be carefully planned to minimize environment impacts in this sensitive area.

With clear, ambitious, but achievable goals, the ASMP can help us on the path to a much brighter future for Austin, but that vision is currently lacking in the draft.  We hope that future drafts will begin to address these issues.

Contact:

  • Brennan Griffin, brennan.griffin@gmail.com.

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