The Austin Chronicle

Creative Intersections

By Amy Smith, April 26, 2014, 11:38am, Newsdesk

After wrapping up his PowerPoint presentation on alternatives to building State Highway 45, Mike Brown, a Utah-based transportation and planning engineer, half-jokingly observed that nearly everyone in the crowd was either running for Austin mayor or City Council.

“How big is this city council?” Brown asked with a laugh.

It’s true that a good many aspiring candidates had filled the seats to hear Brown’s planning scenarios for relieving traffic congestion without building more roads, which in the case of SH 45, would only dump thousands more vehicles onto MoPac.

Just to name a few of the hopefuls in the audience of about 50: mayoral candidates Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler, potential mayoral contender Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole, District 1 candidates Andrew Bucknall and Ora Houston, District 5 candidate Ann Kitchen, possible District 4 hopeful Laura Pressley, and Place 9 candidates/Council incumbents Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo.

As well, SH 45 opponent Brigid Shea, who’s expected to win the Precinct 2 seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court in November, was among those gathered in the Shudde Fath Assembly Room of the Austin Energy Building on this Thursday afternoon.

In fact, Shea’s anticipated presence on the court, alongside the next (presumptive) County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, is part of what's driving the road lobby’s accelerated push to turn dirt on the southwest tollway project before the political sands shift in an altogether different direction.

The City Council has less of a say in determining SH 45’s fate, although the Council did remove the road project from the city's Imagine Austin comprehensive plan. One particularly prickly issue for the city is that the road’s path from South MoPac to FM 1626 in Hays County would cross the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, where the city has invested millions of bond dollars for the acquisition of watershed protection lands.

So Thursday’s confab, sponsored by the Save Our Springs Alliance, was likely a useful session for political candidates in the crowd, regardless of how they stand on SH 45.

Brown, who runs a consulting firm called Metro Analytics, was hired by SOS Alliance, a lead SH 45 opposition group and co-organizer of Keep MoPac Local. The self-described former transportation bureaucrat provided some examples of what’s been done in other cities whose leaders have shown the political will to think outside the box.

Brown showed several sketches of affordable possibilities, ranging from pedestrian and bike-friendly town center intersections, to "bowties," median U-turns, to less ped-friendly continuous flow intersections. Also, simple changes like extending or reconfiguring the traffic signal cycles could improve crowded conditions at South MoPac and Slaughter Lane during rush hour. Many small actions, or a "shared solutions" approach, could combine to not just slow the pace of traffic but also allow drivers to get to their destinations faster, said Brown. Some of his cited examples can be seen at a website he's created called Innovative Intersections.

We'll have more on Brown's talk in the upcoming print edition.

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