Does Climate Pollution Not Count?

Council misses opportunity with Strategic Mobility Plan finalists

Strategic Mobility, Copenhagen style - a road serving transit, cars, bikes, and pedestrians, side by side
Strategic Mobility, Copenhagen style - a road serving transit, cars, bikes, and pedestrians, side by side (by Photo: Katherine Gregor)

Yesterday city council heard presentations from the two finalist teams vying to create a new city Strategic Mobility Plan. A glaring omission: No member questioned the teams about their expertise on reducing climate pollution, or referenced the 2007 council resolution to make Austin the leading city in the nation in the fight against global warming.

To see what the teams presented, see the video of the presentations on the city website. Austinites have until noon on Oct. 29 to let the Transportation Department know what they think. The lead consultants are Fehr & Peers and Kimley-Horn and Associates. Both appeared competent to do the job. For my money, the latter team gave a slightly more inspiring pitch. Pertinent question raised by a council aide: Do we want to have the same consultant working on this plan, that's working on the transportation portion of the comprehensive plan?

But back to climate action: It's implicit in the planning that Austin wants to provide alternatives to getting around by car, which could reduce local carbon emissions in a big way. The stated purpose of the plan: "Identifying the transportation system gaps within the multi-modal network affecting Austin and surrounding areas and developing corridor level, sustainable long-range transportation plans to assure the continued economic and environmental success of Austin." Yet climate protection isn't made an explicit goal.

Only a full hour into the pitches at council yesterday, near the end of final Q&A, did one consultant team member (from Fehr & Peers) finally mention "carbon footprint" as an issue that some community members might care about. Up to that point, neither team said a word about greenhouse gases, or the potential of the strategic mobility plan to be a tool that reduces emissions, or how they proposed to prioritize council's climate-action mandate.

No question from council members addressed this issue, despite the huge potential carbon-reduction benefits of shifting regional transportation toward a multi-modal system.

Why were there no questions about the lead consultants' track records on designing mobility plans to serve as a climate-action tool?

This raised other questions: Was council's policy of reducing GHG emissions, in keeping with the ACPP, even referenced in the RFP language or ranking criteria for selection? Is reducing carbon one of the explicit mandates given for the plan?

[Remember, climate action was not originally in the criteria for selecting a Comp Plan consultant. The demand to prioritize sustainability and climate action expertise came late in the selection process, when it was raised by a few concerned citizens. It didn't come out of coordination between NPZD staff and the ACPP staff, as the RFP was being developed and put out.]

What actions has the ACPP Director taken, or Austin Energy staff, to ensure that our upcoming Strategic Mobility Plan prioritizes maximum possible reductions in carbon? What level of strategic coordination has occurred between ATD and ACPP? If none, does that indicate continued ACPP failure to incorporate transportation-related emissions and action? Is any executive team member at the city of Austin ensuring cross-departmental coordination, to ensure that climate-action goals are integrated explicitly into such major city initiatives?

I've asked Karl Rabago, who oversees the Austin Climate Protection Plan at Austin Energy, Transportation Director Rob Spillar, City Manager Marc Ott, and Mayor Lee Leffingwell to respond to these questions.

Meanwhile, citizens, it's up to you to review the two teams' qualifications and provide input back to city staff and council.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Mobility, transportation

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