Austin was first platted and incorporated in 1839, with a population of a few hundred souls. Within barely 35 years, it had a streetcar system, which ran with varying degrees of success and occasional controversy for another 65 years until – with a ceremony at the center of Sixth and Congress – we pulled the plug. Now, nearly eight decades later, many still regret that move; others are ready to move on to newer forms of distributed or autonomous technologies, or to double down on buses. But what's clear is that none of these solutions will be as efficient as the streetcars that ran in Austin from 1875 to 1940.
That's the subject of the newest exhibit opening next week at the Austin History Center, "Off the Rails: The Rise and Fall of Austin's Streetcars." Photos and documents "showcase familiar landmarks from across the city," but also illustrate how the growing network of rail lines helped shape the city. The opening reception is Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30pm at the AHC, 810 Guadalupe, with refreshments, and fittingly, a visit from the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan team, talking about their latest draft plan; read on below...
(Meanwhile, see the 1996 PBS documentary, Taken for a Ride – available on YouTube – for the full story of how General Motors, the oil companies, and Big Rubber conspired to kill public transit by buying up and dismantling public trolley systems across the country.)
Transportation Planning: This month sees the end of the public outreach periods for long-range plans for both of our major local transportation organizations: the Austin Transportation Department and the Capital Metro transit agency. Cap Metro holds the last of their Community Conversations – public outreach on their Project Connect long-range transit plan – Monday, Dec. 10, 6-8pm at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave. You can view the transit agency's Vision Plan at www.capmetro.org/projectconnect, but as we've seen recently with Imagine Austin and CodeNEXT, there can be a long distance between a vision plan and an actual product; no estimations yet on the implementation plan, funding, or timeline.
City Transportation Department staff will also attend that Monday meeting, discussing their own Austin Strategic Mobility Plan. They're holding their last ASMP outreach events today, Thu., Dec. 6: ASMP office hours at St. John Library, 7500 Blessing, 10-11:30am, and a briefing to City Council's Mobility Committee, 3-5pm at City Hall's Boards and Commissions Room, 301 W. Second. The ASMP draft policies and maps are all now available for review online, and the city is taking feedback through Dec. 21; see www.austintexas.gov/asmp.
Expect both those plans to cycle back through their respective governing bodies in the new year.
And in other happy transit news: Cap Metro's board of directors just approved a permanent fare structure change giving free rides to K-12 students, continuing a successful pilot program that began in June and providing a particular boost to AISD's "choice" programs that it hopes will help attract and retain students.
The [Re]Verse Pitch Competition matches businesses that produce waste products or scrap materials with local entrepreneurs developing new business ideas based on taking those usable materials out of the waste stream. Friday, Dec. 7, is the deadline to apply for the pitch events in February-April; see lots more info at www.reversepitch.org.
Stuff the Bus: Capital Metro and Whole Foods Market are teaming up for the seventh year, trying to collect 100,000 meals for the Central Texas Food Bank. Through the weekend of Dec. 7-9, Cap Metro buses will be parked at the Downtown and Domain Whole Foods locations, 10am-6pm. Or donate money until Dec. 11 at all five Austin-area WFM locations, or online at CapMetro.org/StuffTheBus.
Armadillo Christmas Bazaar's new initiative, "12 Days of Giving," gives a portion of the day's proceeds to a different local nonprofit each day for the run of the event, Dec. 13-24, 11am-10pm, at the Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd. A lot of the beneficiaries are music- and arts-related; here's the full roster:
Thursday, Dec. 13: HAAM
Friday, Dec. 14: Art Alliance Austin
Saturday, Dec. 15: ADAPT of Texas
Sunday, Dec. 16: SouthPop
Monday, Dec. 17: Big Medium
Tuesday, Dec. 18: ZACH Theatre
Wednesday, Dec. 19: Sun Radio
Thursday, Dec. 20: Black Fret
Friday, Dec. 21: Almost Real Things
Saturday, Dec. 22: HOME
Sunday, Dec. 23: Chula League
Monday, Dec. 24: Swan Songs
Tickets are $10, at the door or in advance online at ArmadilloBazaar.com, where you'll also find the full music schedule.
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