Key takeaways from the Austin chamber’s 2016 mobility report

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This article was previously published by Community Impact Newspaper.

Land use planning, more transportation options and managing traffic were three highlights from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 mobility report released today.

The report was released in conjunction with the chamber’s annual mobility luncheon at which Austin Mayor Steve Adler kicked off the event by addressing how the city cannot solve its mobility issues without talking about affordability.

“The path forward is the same for each,” he said. “If you look at the report you have, it is almost as much about affordability as anything else.”

It had been three years since the chamber released its last mobility report in 2013. The latest report offers four takeaways on what the city needs to do to address mobility. View the full report here.

1. Integrate planning and land use to address sprawl

The report suggests stakeholders from various transportation agencies should work together on regional mobility.

One method that could aid regional mobility, the report indicates, is through the use of mixed-use activity centers that would incorporate various transportation options, such as transit, bikes and walking. These centers were highlighted in the 2035 Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long-range plan.

The plan argues the activity centers could also lead to higher density development, improved safety and greater accessibility. To achieve these new visions would require changing the city’s land development code, which the city is undertaking with CodeNEXT that will be completed in 2017.

“We have got to get CodeNEXT where it can plan for the growth that we anticipate is coming,” said Drew Scheberle, the chamber’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy.

Lee Einsweiler, principal with Code Studio—an Austin firm focused on planning and land development codes—said cities such as Austin need to think hard about the urban design of places.

“The fact that we lack a network is killing us,” he said.

He said the city of Austin needs to create a stronger network of streets and transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities as well as more density for car-free living. Residents could use money saved from not having a car to put toward other parts of their life, such as paying a mortgage, he said.

This includes high-capacity transit, such as bus or rail, and active transportation, which is using one’s own body to get from place to place, such as walking and biking.

2. Promote other forms of transportation

Only about 20 percent of commuters use an alternative form of transportation regularly, according to the report. To encourage using other forms, the reports said the city would need to invest in sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure.

“We can’t rely on single-occupant vehicles to solve the problem; we just can’t build enough [roads],” Scheberle said.

Capital Metro is also working on providing more frequent bus and rail service. The transit agency unveiled a draft service plan update Aug. 22 proposing to operate bus service more frequently on key roadways and add Express bus service on the new MoPac managed lanes.

3. Cut commutes through transportation demand management

Also known as TDM, this acronym focuses on managing existing traffic through a variety of means, such as shifting commute times, carpooling, telecommuting and using managed toll lanes, such as the ones under construction on MoPac.

Stuart Cowan, chief scientist for the Smart Cities Council—which focuses on using technology to create livable and sustainable cities—said TDM also means investing more in smart mobility, which uses transportation to aid mobility. Examples would be using car or bike share and autonomous vehicles to change the way people own vehicles. He said not having vehicles sitting in parking space all day could free up 70-80 percent of parking spaces and allow the land to be used in other ways.

“If people can spend less on mobility they have more to spend on housing, more to spend on basic needs,” he said.

4. Funding the above initiatives

Lastly, the chamber report indicates diverse funding options are needed to support these initiatives.

Scheberle said the chamber has supported nearly all transportation bonds and propositions in the last few years, including the failed urban rail bond in 2014 and propositions 1 and 7 approved by voters in 2014 and 2015. A majority of funding from those two will go toward improvements on I-35.

He said the city’s $720 million mobility bond that goes to voters Nov. 8 could help the city work toward achieving some of these initiatives.

“We know without [the bond, traffic] gets a lot worse,” Scheberle said. “It is part of toll roads. It is part of bike lanes. It is part of hiking trails. It is part of sidewalks. It is corridors, land use planning and preserving what we love about Austin. I don’t think anybody loves sitting in traffic.”

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