Public Notice: Mobility and Affordability
Mayor Adler chases transportation dollars
As Mayor Steve Adler noted recently, "No other city is better positioned than Austin to realize the potential of the Smart City Initiative. Moreover, no U.S. city is in more need of innovation in transportation to address our most pressing challenges of mobility and affordability."
These are certainly the buzzwords of the season and obvious targets for civic improvement. Everyone bemoans the traffic and lack of transit. And the cost of living – particularly housing – has gone through the roof. Moreover, there are tantalizing hints that solutions to both problems are synergistic: that redesigning parts of the city to put more people along mobility corridors can make it easier to get around, and less expensive to live. That if we can take all those cars out of the planning equation ("sheet metal horses," an architect friend used to call them), streets become more attractive, more bike-and-ped-friendly, and much more compact. We can almost see the bright, shiny Austin of the future, but it's not so clear how we get from here to there, without destroying what's already here.
So, you can sit back and await the flying cars (now auto-piloted flying cars) that we've been promised, or you can roll up your sleeves and try to join the planning effort:
The hardest work is the ongoing slog toward a Land Development Code rewrite. The CodeNEXT team held a Public Comment Meeting this past Monday, April 4, to gather feedback on its recently released "code prescription paper," intended to give a general idea of the direction(s) the new code will take. The seven sections in the document were grouped and discussed at four different stations, four of which seemed pretty tame: Greenfield Development; Water and Watersheds; Landscape and Trees; Parks and Open Space. (I mean, who's against parks?) All of the controversy seemed crammed into one station – encompassing the broad and contentious issues of: Redevelopment; Compatibility and Transitions; and Design for Mobility. The action around that table was so crowded, and so heated, that for a good 45 minutes, people were struggling to get close enough to hear well, let alone join the conversation, moderated gamely by the redoubtable Dave Sullivan.
Still, it may be that folks on both sides – let's call them preservationists and gentrifiers, to use terms equally unfair to both – got a chance to hear each other, and perhaps find places where there's middle ground. And perhaps city staff heard both sides as well, and will find ways to draft zoning code that will address everyone's concerns. But at this point, despite all the attempts at public outreach, that process is pretty much a black box. No one outside the CodeNEXT team has any idea how this input will be evaluated, how the code writing and mapping will be done, or what it might look like. Get another peek inside the box this Saturday at the Code Prescription Community Walk: Oltorf/South First streets, April 9, 9-11am, starting from Once Over Coffee Bar, 2009 S. First.
Meanwhile, Mayor Adler's been chasing the transportation dollars. Last week he was in San Diego for a World Economic Forum meeting on urban mobility – where U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx provided an update on the Smart City Challenge, in which Austin is one of seven finalists for a grant of up to $50 million to implement a "transformative" mobility solution – and then headed to Washington, D.C., to further discuss the project.
Austin's proposal is based on several projects that are already under way: It imagines using "big data" to make traffic lights automatically adjust to weather, traffic flow, and accidents, as well as providing personalized, automatic traffic reports. In the preliminary round, Austin also proposed electrifying the city vehicle and taxi fleets, a pilot project for a driverless shuttle bus at the airport, and one-stop-shopping transportation hubs and mobility passes that would include bus, rail, taxis, and TNCs in one seamless package. (Those are the sorts of civic partnerships that Google will jump right into, while Uber will spurn unless forced, and therein lies the difference between a responsible corporate citizen and one that's not. But I digress.) See the preliminary proposal at www.austintexas.gov/page/smart-city-challenge.
Final proposals are due next month, with the winner to be announced in June.
Meanwhile, the city is holding a series of Mobility Talks conversations about transit priorities, all around town through April. They start Mon., April 11, 11am at Strange Brew, 5326 Manchaca Rd., and Tue., April 12, 12:30pm at Cafe Ruckus, 409 W. Second, and 7pm at Cafe Java, 11900 Metric.
And if code won't fix it ... The city's hosting a series of Austin Housing Plan Conversations, to get your input on Austin's affordable housing conundrum and how it might be addressed, continuing around town through April. This week's meetings are Sat., April 9, 10:30am-12:30pm at Manchaca Library, 5500 Manchaca Rd., and Mon., April 11, 6-8pm at Pleasant Hill Library, 211 E. William Cannon. www.austintexas.gov/housingplan.
Oops: I somewhat garbled some detail in last week's listing for Texas State Parks Month at Whole Earth Provision Co. stores. Customers can indeed donate to Texas State Parks throughout the month – and get state park gift cards and merch for doing so – but park rangers will be in the stores dispensing information and visitor advice only this Sun., April 10, 2-4pm.
Keep Austin Beautiful hosts their annual Clean Sweep event Sat., April 9, 9-11am; they're still looking for volunteers to help out at 40+ sites around town, and/or to work at the volunteer appreciation party, 11am-1:30pm at Fiesta Gardens. See a map of the worksite locations, and sign up to help, at www.keepaustinbeautiful.org.