The Prop. 1 mobility bond that will be on the ballot Nov. 8 is the result of a largely closed process orchestrated by a number of business, development and enthusiast interest groups, rather than the community and entire Austin City Council.
The plan escaped the review that would occur with a council-appointed citizen advisory committee and open dialogue. Consequently, the plan adopts a one-size-fits-all strategy and does not allocate resources wisely throughout the city. The plan continues a trend of expanding bicycle lanes equally throughout the city at the expense of car lanes and in areas where bicycle use is less prevalent, such as on FM 969 (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in far East Austin.
This is a failed strategy that has already reduced automobile lanes on several major streets, such as Cameron Road and Springdale Road, in favor of little-used bike lanes. In addition, Prop. 1 limits mobility by reducing turn lanes on some streets by erecting center medians. Removing existing turning lanes will force traffic to back up at intersections, which will tend to block travel lanes as cars wait to turn at cross streets.
Automobile capacity will be reduced further by bus-only lanes on arterial streets during peak traffic times. These streets include major roads such as Lamar Boulevard, Guadalupe Street and Riverside Drive. Prop 1 mandates that several of these roads reduce traffic in some areas to one car lane in each direction during rush hour. So, passing Prop. 1 will result in less automobile capacity on these streets as our population continues to grow and the number of automobiles increase.
Another concern with Prop. 1 is that very little of the money is focused on actual road construction. Most of the money is earmarked for engineering studies, bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, bus shelters and the like. So, the proposal is inherently defective because the plan is not focused on managing car traffic, which is our most-pressing concern.
The proposal to spend three-quarters of a billion dollars is more than we have spent on road construction over the past two decades, with very little of it going to actual roads. Prop. 1 is more of a companion plan for a city like Portland, Oregon, that uses public transit extensively, rather than a primary plan for a city like Austin, which relies more on automobile transportation.
Aside from the questions about the viability of the plan to reduce traffic congestion in Austin is the question of debt.
“Although state government has shown fiscal constraint, local municipalities in Texas have almost doubled indebtedness over the past decade to $39 billion in new local debt issued last year from $20 billion ten years ago,” says the Texas Bond Review Board, which according to Investor’s Business Daily estimates our state’s per-capita local debt — $8,350 — to be the second-highest in the nation, trailing only New York’s $10,465 debt per person.
We should focus our bonding capacity on projects that pass rigorous review and are not rushed through by a small, powerful number of interest groups without significant public involvement, especially as it relates to our increasing debt load.
As a growing city, we must make wise investments that support alternative modes of transportation, such as east-to-west rapid transit, including rail from Manor into Austin. We should also focus on increasing automobile capacity rather than decreasing it. This process should begin with the development of a strategy that is inclusive and encourages participation from residents throughout the city and elected officials, rather than discouraging it. Prop. 1 should not be approved.
Houston is a member of the Austin City Council.