Austin seeks fix to traffic issues

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An estimated 450,000 commuters use city roads daily, and 33 percent of them start their trips from outside the city limits, said Mayor Steve Adler on March 4 during the city’s Traffic Jam! event to educate residents about ongoing transportation planning efforts.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the two largest household expenses are housing and transportation. As families move farther from a city to afford housing, the Center of Housing and Policy found that they face trade-offs. For every $1 saved on housing costs, a family spends 77 cents in added transportation costs. When a person’s commute exceeds 12-15 miles, housing savings are wiped out by increased transportation costs.

“[Transportation] is a regional challenge, and we have to approach it on a regional basis,” Adler said.

The city’s $720 million mobility bond approved by voters last November provides funding for local and regional road projects as well as bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Building or expanding roads is a common approach to aiding traffic congestion, but in Austin, the city does not have the right of way to do this, Austin Transportation Director Rob Spillar said.

“That means we have to make the most efficient use of the space we have,” he said. “A regular bus takes up the space of maybe three cars end to end, but a bus can carry 40 people. How do we start giving transit priority [to buses]through signals and very congested corridors or schedule and price transit so we make better use of it?”

The city is working on creating its first long-range  transportation plan since 1995, and the plan will head to City Council for approval in early 2018. That plan will identify the next set of projects that could be funded through a future transportation bond. The potential improvements could include increased road capacity but also recommended bicycle, sidewalk and transit network improvements, said Annick Beaudet, manager of the Austin Transportation Department’s Systems Development Division.

Tarrytown resident Bill Oakey, a former member of the city’s electric utility commission, pens the blog Austin Affordability. One of his suggestions to alleviating traffic is creating a decentralized transit program that would dispatch cars, vans and buses to all Austin neighborhoods and transport commuters.

The service would be set up so the managing agency could plot routes based on where demand is, he said.

Although Capital Metro does offer a vanpool program, Oakey said it is not used enough. His plan would engage major employers and planners to craft a network from scratch.

In March, Capital Metro’s board approved the agency’s Connections 2025 service plan update that outlines proposed changes to the agency’s bus system, but Oakey said the agency needs to take a more comprehensive regional look at transit first.

“The only way we’re ever going to get out of this traffic nightmare and transportation dilemma is some kind of mass transit that gets us away from one person per vehicle,” Oakey said.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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