Planners at the city of Austin hope that CodeNext, the city’s massive rewrite of the entire land use code, will also address traffic, creating a more connected city that would pull drivers out of their cars and onto public transportation, bikes or sidewalks.
In a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, code writers and engineers and an architect answered questions from the public about how CodeNext may reduce traffic. While they offered some details into how they might address mobility, many questions remained.
“We have some issues that need to be solved but we’re not going to solve our issues by hoping people start riding bikes and walking,” said John Highbarger, a Tarrytown resident and University of Texas lecturer who attended the meeting.
However, there was a wide consensus that Austin will not be able to build its way out of its congestion problem.
Staff said the new code could increase connectivity by encouraging mixed use developments, discouraging road designs that thwart connectivity — such as cul-de-sacs — and allowing for shorter street blocks in certain areas of the city. It is all a part of encouraging other forms of transportation besides driving.
The new code may also require developers of large apartment complexes and commercial developments to address transportation access to a greater extent than they currently do, said John Miki with Opticos, the lead consultant in the CodeNext rewrite.
But developer Terry Mitchell, who moderated the discussion, wondered about how the city can use its code for long-term planning when much of the development outside of city limits could affect traffic while being completely unregulated by CodeNext.
“It is almost like you will have to be soothsayers or prophets,” Mitchell said.
The new code could also reduce parking space requirements and possibly cap parking space maximums on new commercial developments.
Each of the many things being considered in the draft code aims at reducing vehicle trips, whether through encouraging density, dispersing jobs more evenly throughout the city or creating walking trails in neighborhoods.
“There is never going to be one silver bullet that solves the issue,” Miki said. “It is not going to be any one thing. It is going to be doing all of these things.”
The problem with many aspects of how the city currently handles transportation is that the standards are decades old, when development trends created road and neighborhood layouts that were designed to encourage driving.
“We made a lot of mistakes that we are now recognizing,” architect Heyden Black Walker said.
Austin’s rewrite of its development rules is a critical and complex topic that the American-Statesman continues to explore with in-depth reporting. Visit mystatesman.com to read previous coverage on how CodeNext could pave the way for denser development and allow garage apartments in more areas. Go to the Statesman’s City Blog at statesman.com/cityblog for the latest on the City Council’s CodeNext discussions.