Vote Yes on Prop 1

27 10 2010

As stated in my previous blog posting, that handful of vociferously deluded Road Warriors have begun organizing into PACs and colluding against the relatively innocuous Proposition 1 on this electoral ballot. This is not surprising. But if they are indeed able to successfully prevaricate and manipulate the electorate against it on Nov. 2, in no way would that bode well for any future transportation bond proposition that provides choices other than building more roads. And so, after listing eight common sense reasons to vote “Yes” on Proposition 1, we’ll discover who these road lobbyists are and how they are structured.

Eight Common Sense Reasons to Vote YES on Proposition 1

1)     Focusing on building more roads to the exclusion of all else is what has caused Austin’s transportation problems.

2)     If vehicle-miles of travel were to increase by 5%/year, roadway lane-miles would need to increase by 5% each year just to maintain the initial congestion level.*

3)      It would require at least twice the level of current-day road expansion funding to attempt a “road construction only” strategy.*

4)      In growing areas adding capacity of all types is essential to handle the growing demand and avoid rapidly rising congestion.*

5)      Smart Growth characteristics should be incorporated into new developments so that new economic development does not generate the same amount of traffic volume as existing developments.*

6)      TxDOT can only afford 30% of the funds needed to make required improvements, more than 40% of its budget goes to maintenance, and it will go broke by 2012.

7)      Because of ‘optimism bias’ toll road bonds are routinely graded as ‘BBB’ while all three major U.S. financial rating agencies have reaffirmed Austin’s ‘AAA’ long-term rating.

8)      “TxDOT has supplemented state and federal revenue allocations with private partners and borrowed funds generated by various bond issues (since 2002),” says Susan Combs (Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts). “TxDOT must service this existing debt before spending any funds on new projects.”

(* Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) and thus TxDOT)

In sum, Proposition 1 seeks to make transportation improvements by increasing the efficiency of the existing system right at the heart, which will then begin emanating throughout the whole Central Texas Region. According to TTI, “these treatments are particularly effective in three ways:

1)     “They are relatively low cost and high benefit which is efficient from a funding perspective;

2)     “They can usually be implemented quickly;

3)     “And they can be tailored to individual situations, making them more useful because they are flexible.”

With Proposition 1, the City of Austin is attempting to begin rectifying over 40 years of pro-road tunnel-vision…Vote “Yes.”

The Nitwits Who Would Have You Do Otherwise

Sensible Transportation Solutions for Austin PAC (Filed 10/5/2010)

Campaign Treasurer: Dominic Chavez; Person Appointing the Treasurer: Dominic Chavez; Media Contact: Ed Wendler

Financial muscle (to the tune of $30k) provided by former Texas Monthly publisher (and wannabe political player): Mike Levy

Engineers Affirming Sustainable Transportation (EAST) PAC (Filed 10/5/2010)

Campaign Treasurer (and former treasurer of Coalition on Sensible Transportation): Don Zimmerman; Person Appointing Treasurer: Jim Skaggs

Austinites for Action (501c4)

Their Mission (I’m not making this up): “Break the lock on our city politics”

Executive Director: Carole Keeton Strayhorn; Advisory Board: Dominic Chavez, Jim Skaggs, Don Zimmerman (among others)

West Downtown Alliance

Members: None; But for more information you can contact?: Carole Keeton Strayhorn

Old Texas Proverb: “You can put your boots into the oven, but they’ll never turn into buns.”

Austin’s Landscape of Missed Opportunity

21 10 2010

Awhile ago, just before starting up with this blogging business, I decided to begin investigating the two basic precepts of Smart Growth, being transportation and land use. And as we should all know by now, first I focused on the former, coming to the ultimate conclusion that running rail lines “right down the middle” first is indeed the best if not only way to reach ultimate success. Also, after dabbling throughout the Texas Transportation Institute’s national databases, I determined that the time to strike for such an endeavor was 1989, which is when cities like Portland and Denver instigated their multi-modal transportation plans – Yes, right down the middle.

For the past month and a half or so I’ve been studying Austin’s land-use and transportation strategies, from 1979’s Austin Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan all the way up to today. And the reason why I haven’t been posting blogs of late is because I’ve been lost in an absolutely veritable Mobius-strip mode miasma (which has only been made worse by my reporting from the front-lines of the altogether contrived so-called Tea Party “Rebellion” [take it from me: they are comprised of unconstructive and uncivil nitwitted bullies; they comprise a 10% minority yet are certain that 85% of the American public shares their beliefs; Shakespeare: “Certitude is the last disease for old, decrepit kings”; but enough about their noisy nonsense] for The Elgin Courier. Perpetually boggling me has been the tens of millions, nay, the hundreds of millions of dollars invested into the community throughout the years for planning efforts that have essentially been all for naught.

I’ve termed it “Austin’s Landscape of Missed Opportunity.”

Yes, Austin’s Tomorrow Plan had no developer input whatsoever. But that’s interesting in and of itself, especially taking into account how the plan was not adopted as an ordinance but merely served as a planning tool to guide development. So, did it indeed ever guide development? (Sorry for the quality; these were the best I could find online.)



Here’s what, for all intents and purposes, unfettered developers thus virtually unfettered development has inflicted Austin with:

In other words, sprawl.

Many of you know Peter Park, Denver’s Planning and Community Development Director, made a recent visit to Austin. He really opened up my eyes (please see Blueprint Denver) to what the heck I’ve been researching and writing about and why as well as Austin’s reality, both now and in future. The main points I took away with me:

  • Congestion can be considered a measure of success for a locality;
  • So don’t bother with attempting to solve congestion;
  • Rather, try adding mobility choices that reshape growth patterns;
  • Identify areas of change versus areas of stability (which should be enhanced by adding connections);
  • Build on existing strengths;
  • And don’t take the path of least resistance.

Park’s message should serve as nothing but a shrill wake-up call for Austin.


In 1989 both Portland and Denver implemented light rail “right down the middle.” Portland is the exemplar of success because it embraced the land use aspects of Smart Growth almost immediately thereafter. Denver began doing so approximately 15/16 years later (please see its new, wonderfully simplistic Form-Based Zoning Code) and is now verging upon the path towards, if you will, Portland-esque success. But, if Denver had embraced land use before that, it would already be much further along by now.

Which leads us to Austin: Over the past two decades it has favored building more roads while outright scorning expanding multi-modality via light rail again and again. Yes, commuter rail was finally accepted. But the Red Line was most definitely implemented according to the path of least resistance. Rather than starting at Phase I, being right down the middle, CapMetro commenced the effort with what should have been considered for Phase V or VI. Because of this it will serve as nothing but a virtual piñata when the City of Austin starts discussing Urban Rail as a bond issue in, at the earliest, 2012 – But maybe even later than that. Due to the Red Line’s by all accounts predictably dismal performance, whenever this issue indeed gets put on the table, there is a very real likelihood that it won’t be passed. With that said, the vociferously deluded Road Lobby is already concerting itself against this year’s relatively innocuous transportation bond election.

So that’s where Austin stands on the transportation aspect of Smart Growth.

And when it comes to the land use end of things?

Austin neither knows where it stands nor even where it wants to get yet.

Yes, Imagine Austin will most likely be a huge step in that direction (but the result of this comprehensive planning effort is just under two years away). Yes, Park’s representations of Denver were inspirational. Yes, Austin should aspire to Portland’s and Denver’s Smart Growth endeavors. But Austin should not ignore the cold hard reality of its situation relative to Portland and Denver.

Again, in 1989 Portland almost simultaneously implemented non-auto transportation options right down the middle and also re-jiggered its land use. Denver implemented non-auto transportation options right down the middle in 1989 but it wasn’t until 2010 that it finalized its new land use strategy. Since Austin has heretofore done neither, it is at the very least 20 years and at the very most (depending upon whatever the hell occurs both nationally and abroad during the next two years) 50 years behind where Denver is right now in 2010. Furthermore, the cost of attaining this level will be much, much more than what Portland and Denver invested during these past 20 years, maybe even by a factor of two or three.

Yes, you may say I maybe am being a bit dismal (but, then again, I am an economist)…But, at the very least, it is inarguable that the City of Austin needs to start working really, really hard in one concerted direction if the Central Texas Region is to indeed truly Progress in every sense of that word.

For more in this series please see:

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