Skip to content

A disconnect

April 25, 2018

UPDATE (4.26.18, 2:53 p.m.):

Just got a phone call from CEO Randy Clarke himself and I am pleased to report that things have been entirely patched up. He assured me the entire affair was a major misunderstanding and that whatever message the agency flak conveyed to me was not, by any means, his intent.

Clarke, bless his heart, is apparently a complete Twitter neophyte and thus wasn’t aware that it is a complete cesspool of bad takes, dumb jokes, and occasional nuclear brinkmanship. This enviable innocence combined with what he frames as earnest and exhausting work to whip the agency into shape combined with the communications staff phone game between us apparently led to the breakdown. Otherwise, ain’t no one mad and I still enjoy full access privileges and remain on good standing, etc.

For my part, I advised him that Twitter is a fetid hell hole plugged with living slime that drags everyone involved five or six rungs down the evolutionary ladder.

To be clear: I absolutely accept Clarke’s explanation and totally appreciate his reaching out to me to smooth things over. I take him at his word (repeated several times in our handful of mutually friendly chats since before he even got the job) that he avidly believes in transparency. As I originally wrote, the fellow has brought an obvious new energy to the agency and it seems like some of that is already bearing fruit in terms of incremental improvements. On any dang day of the week, I would prefer that to be the story rather than some dust-up with a dumb reporter and bus rider who nonetheless reserves the right to occasionally tweet gentle criticisms wrapped in recondite theological references.

————————————————————————————

Capital Metro’s flak called me on Monday to let me know the new CEO had decided to cut off my access to senior staff. No more sit-down interviews with the top brass, she said. No off the record chats, no background from the technical experts themselves. If ever I hope to again get information from the agency, I will have to accept it from the filtered tap of the paid communications staff.

This harsh decree came in response to what the flak said were several of my tweets from the previous week that the new CEO apparently found untoward. This kinda took me aback since I had been making a deliberate effort in recent months to not clown on our local transit service as much as I have in the past. So I went back through the ol’ TL, diligently digging my way through a billion bad tweets about dockless scooters and such, but never surfacing anything that my admittedly spotty conception of a reasonable human being might consider over the line.

Certainly, I’ve used that snark-lobbing website to lob snark at Capital Metro over the years. It’s kinda hard not to do if  you’re a regular rider. It’s not a perfect transit system, and its direction in recent years has often been baffling at best.

Of course, let’s not forget that the agency itself has tried in the past to give as good as it gets. Last year, one staffer compared me to a spoiled brat when I made an offhand crack about the agency’s bizarre refusal to extend frequent service to a destination-rich gap along its flagship bus line. Capital Metro’s official account suggested that, instead of worrying about functional transit in Austin’s dense core, I simply use an online delivery app.

instacart3

We’ve had our fun, the agency and I.

The arrival of the new fellow though seemed to signal a major new shift. Here was a bus-ridin’ badass come to invigorate the agency with a new sense of service-minded purpose. Out of slightly gushing deference, I opted to pull the ol’ punches on Twitter for a minute and let the man get to work.

Even then though, the flak called me last month to warn me that the new boss wasn’t happy with my social media activities. I brushed that off as a misunderstanding between an all-business executive type from the northeast, a degenerate wise-ass writer way too steeped in Austin, and their unlucky Dutch-American interlocutor. Still, I resolved to be a bit more mindful.

Which, well, here we are.

trim

So seven weeks into the new CEO’s tenure, here’s my report card thus far:

  • Palpable Go-Gettum Energy: A+
  • Weird Reactionary Caprice: C-

Try transit, everyone!

Advertisements

Cornucopia

March 29, 2018

If you were unable to make it to last night’s Traffic Jam thing, or otherwise didn’t fully process all that detailed information surrounded by so many politicians and profligate journalists, here then are the digital versions of the many boards Capital Metro displayed featuring Project Connect’s corridor profiles and other related ephemera.

As the poet said, click to embiggen.

Spencer’s gifts

December 20, 2017

Because I live to serve none but you, the citizen, I have prepared a list of things that Spencer Cronk — the precious and perfect diamond of an executive star child that City Council spent lo these many millennia patiently searching the galaxy for — might pack up with him as he leaves Minneapolis to take the reins as Austin’s reigning city manager (also, some rain this week, huh?).

1. A globally recognized bicycling network

In 2015, the Danish outfit Copehagenize Design Company granted Minneapolis rarified status as the only U.S. city on its biennial Bicycle Friendly Cities Index. Yes, lists are generally a waste of everyone’s time, but you’re already reading this one so, look, you’ve already crossed that Rubicon. In any case, Minneapolis has made some wild investments in protected lanes and urban trails of late and, despite having the wintry inverse of Austin’s shitty summers, the city’s share of bicycling commuters is among the highest in the country.

2. Light rail that blasted out of the gate

Minneapolis’ Metro Transit opened its inaugural light rail route in 2004, the same year that Capital Metro put MetroRail on our local ballot. Ridership on the Blue Line, which charted a fairly arrow-straight path along one of the city’s busiest corridors, was gangbusters from the outset, allowing Metro Transit to start work on and eventually open up a second line connecting downtown Minneapolis with its twin city across the way, St. Paul (named for Minnesota’s proudest son, Paul Westerberg). Both the Blue and the Green lines provided just shy of 69,000 ultra-nice trips per day in 2015. While it might be an unfair apples-to-pineapples comparison to weigh urban light rail against suburban commuter rail, I will still insist on noting that MetroRail’s Red Line daily ridership is currently maxed out at roughly 3,000. But okay, shiny objects aside, let’s do an oranges-to-oranges (though please leave the Orange Line back home, Sr. Cronk) comparison: Metro Transit dished out 62 million bus rides in 2015 while Capital Metro, god bless ’em, provided just 31.6 million (maybe it’s the density?).

3. Jucy Lucys

Torchy’s is slop on a factory tortilla served with frat-boy fauxgression. The entire operation is a franchised temple of manufactured marketing grown in a test tube to be, like their food, TOTALLY IN YOUR FACE. Pray, Spencer, bring us the spirit of Minneapolis’ humblest hole-in-the-wall, Matt’s Bar and Grill, home of the original Jucy Lucy, that gross glop of cheese-injected burger ball that is as gratifying as it is unassuming. Instead of an entire exterior welded wall sign SHOUTING at you how DAMN GOOD its try-hard TACOS ARE, BRO, Matt’s servers simply and Minnesota-nicely warn you that the handheld hypertension you’re about to eat will melt your mouth and tongue and teeth if you bite into it too soon.

4. Cheapo Records

A fine, fine used CD and record store that once occupied the Downtown Goodwill (and original Whole Foods) at 10th and Lamar, Cheapo Records ended its Austin residency for good back in 2012. The story behind the Minnesota mini-chain’s establishment of a toe-hold this far from home is the sort of random stoner-shrug happenstance that defined most Austin activity in the 1990s. Of course, Cheapo is still plugging away up in Minneapolis but it’s a scandal to think of how many young Austin teens are currently living in a city without a reliable resale store where they can transform their stepfathers’ shitty Uriah Heap CDs into weed money. Bring it back home, Spence. I’ll work day shifts.

5. A Major League Soccer team

Does Austin need it? No. Are we going to get it anyway? Let me just ride this hot streak I’ve been on lately and say: Absolutely Not. BUT, for the sake of fantasy, if this city does end up with a pro leg-ball team on its hands in the next year or two or three, we could do a lot worse than Minneapolis. For starters, the Minnesota FC (by the way, if Austin goes the way of pretentious Euro team-naming convention, I hope we go all the way: Sporting AusTex FC Crew United SC FFC Grackle Arsenals FC FC FSC FXXXC FfffffCeeeee!!!) For starters, the Minnesota FC play adjacent to Downtown Minneapolis. In fact, they’re just across the river from it and investigators still have not connected that to Prince’s death. But in an innovation that none of our innovators around here seem to have yet innovated, the club or squad or whatever it is shares its stadium with the University of Minnesota football team, a fairly inspired stroke given that college football and pro soccer seasons don’t have a ton of overlap. Of course, a similar cooperative sitch could be a hard sell for the University of Texas, so supposing an MLS stadium ultimately ends up rising on some hunk of as-yet determined city land, I hope that our boy BadonkaCronk would be mindful enough to try to steer things in such a manner that minimizes stadium parking since, after all, most soccer players and spectators in America almost universally carpool to the games in their moms’ minivans.

So that’s it, S.C. Bring all of that good Minneapolis stuff to us. I am willing to offer, in exchange, every last inch of our part of I-35.

(photo made available by Jonathunder through a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Uported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license)

A win-win

June 7, 2017

After hastily throwing together an article yesterday about the mayor’s reaction to Gov. Gerg Abbot’s call for a special session — a call that included (some would say overtly craven and degenerately political) attacks on Austin — I hoofed it on over to the ol’ Paramount Theatre to take in a screening of Kubrick’s klassic “Paths of Glory”, a fine film that portrays a detached and depraved ruling class of amoral generals who, in between their daily routine of fancy lunches and lavish balls, treat with sadistic glee driven by careerist lust the lives of the common men they lord over.

On my way to the theater, I couldn’t help but dwell on the governor’s complaints about burdensome regulations that depress Austin’s true economic potential, especially as I passed one of the most unfortunate blocks in all of downtown. I’ve written articles before about Block 126, a Travis County-owned property that sits at 11th and Lavaca streets. The site is severely impeded by a Capitol view corridor which restricts building height on all but its northeast corner.

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 11.18.54 AM

Naturally, the state-protected view of the dome under which so much anti-regulatory legislation is concocted by worthy statesman from such cultural centers as Woodville, Humble, or Euless deserves to be maintained so that we may all be reminded of the paternal lordship of our duly elected masters, those golden ubermensch of high breeding and indomitable intellect.

But with the county eyeing a reshuffling of its various facilities, as well as its interest in partnering with the city on projects aimed at helping the most vulnerable aspects of our rapidly changing community, could there be a mutually agreeable solution for Block 126 that guarantees the greatest good for the greatest number? Standing in the large, empty parking lot on Tuesday, the evening sun casting my long shadow against a lifeless, non-descript white wall across Lavaca Street, I was struck with an answer: Yes! Here then is the perfect place to protect our community’s proud yet struggling culture of Live Music!

With calls for the city to take pressure off of its premier parks by redistributing large outdoor events to other venues, and with private music clubs threatened by mounting market pressures, and with the county’s constant struggle with complaints from neighbors about an outdoor event space along the Colorado River, why not kill three or four birds with one single, publicly-owned outdoor amphitheater-shaped stone at this centrally-located yet underpopulated section of downtown, complete as it is with a stunning view of that temple of fiscal prudence and local preemption?

Surrounded by a cornucopia of bus routes, bike lanes, and parking, Block 121 presents itself as the ideal location for weekly or even daily exhibitions of all flavor of musical diversity, from reggae to hip hop and cumbia to conjunto. Much as it did for other venues downtown, the city could relax burdensome regulations such as noise curfews, allowing the freedom of ear-splitting musical expression to extend as late as midnight even on weeknights since, after all, the area is virtually devoid of humanity after the daily 5:00 p.m exodus of neighboring government offices by parasitic, taxpayer-funded bureaucrats.

Granted, there are a handful of permanent residents at the Westgate condo tower just to the north, but the state-mandated height restrictions do not preclude a partial acoustic-buffering eggshell that could rise up along 11th Street, replacing the existing county office building there. Naturally, in order to preserve for concert goers the vista of that awesome Olympus of state government whose great pantheon includes towering authors of Texas law such as Pa Ferguson, Earle Mayfield, and Bo Pilgrim, the egg would obstruct in neither vision nor sound the wide open eastern boundary of the property.

What’s more, this grand plan could also serve as primary SXSW stage, where brands could sponsor over-the-top set pieces featuring booming pyrotechnic displays and the hippest artists of the day, such as maybe Atari Teenage Riot. In the spirit of combining innovation with tradition, perhaps a hologram Lou Reed could be drafted for tri-daily performances of his cult classic Metal Machine Music. This could help economically pollinate underused sections of downtown Austin as throngs of festival attendees hike from 6th Street towards the new venue. Here are some suggested routes:

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 11.02.52 AM

Of course, the influx of thousands of people daily to this site would require a large overhaul of the surrounding infrastructure, work that could conflict with the crowds and their musical gratification. To that end, the city’s Public Works Department could simply stagger the work hours and deploy overnight crews to tear out and reinstall the needed utilities, concrete streets, and extra bright LED safety lights along the surrounding access routes such as 11th, 10th, and Colorado streets. It is of vital importance to get this work done correctly, right down to the finest detail. No cost should be spared, and if even one hair of the final work is unsatisfactory, the city must not hesitate to rip it all up and start from the very beginning, no matter how long it takes.

This all of course is but just one proposition, and perhaps a modest one at that. There are likely a staggering number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but no doubt a willing partnership between city and county officials could quickly shepherd it to its final stages. In fact, perhaps the biggest obstacle would be securing permission from the one man whose omnipotent Word carries with it the intractable law of the land, the captain whose beck and call we dutifully serve, in whose mercy we are undeservedly privileged to bask, the true leader of Texas himself: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Down, down, down

February 23, 2017

According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, the Austin area is leading the nation when it comes to shedding transit ridership. Pretty cool for a city where, each year, the average driver spends nearly two full days of her life stuck in traffic.

From 2015 to 2016, after politicians had admonished us to Bite Back Against Traffic before then urging us to Get Austin Moving Again, Capital Metro sloughed off 3.9 million transit trips. That 11.9 percent drop places this Progressive Paradise behind Washington, D.C., where the transit system is actively killing people.

In a big city with such a big problem, ascribing blame is no simple venture. Whether Austin’s growing disinterest in transit over the years is a function of falling gas prices, higher fares, the exodus of low-income residents from the urban core, UT’s shrinking contribution for shuttle service, bad weather, Uber and Lyft, a century of government-mandated car dependence, or perhaps the prevailing planners’ religion that focuses on regional commutes above all other trips, I am not qualified to say! But here, for your delight and whimsy, is a snapshot of how Capital Metro’s performance has changed in the past decade:

 2006  2016
Austin population 730,729 931,830
Mass transit trips* 34,394,181 28,968470
Hours of service 1,137,563 1,345,306
Miles of service 15,224,358 17,148,062
Passengers per mile 2.26 1.69

 

*(for this exercise, ‘mass transit’ includes all daily bus and rail services variously available in each year, i.e. MetroBus, MetroRapid, MetroExpress, UT Shuttles, MetroRail, and the ‘Dillos [RIP]. excluded are the on-demand services such as MetroAccess, CARTS, and special event service)

Central Planning

December 5, 2016

Folks familiar with the previous iteration of Project Connect are justified if they feel  somewhat skeptical of the upcoming reboot of the program. The 2013-2014 process was a bungled hash of thumb-on-the-scales public engagement that ultimately produced a deeply flawed light rail proposal aimed more at driving development in dumpy parts of town rather than providing any useful mobility option where it would be, y’know, needed.

Anyone expecting Project Connect 2.0 — set to launch publicly in January — to be a summary expiation of sins past via single-minded pursuit of light rail down Guadalupe and North Lamar would do well to remember how, in the planning process, the perfect (planning euphemism for ‘good’) always loses to the good (planning euphemism for ‘best we could do without upsetting the status quo’). Of course, I am a reflexive pessimist so take my kvetching with a grain of salt, if you please.

As it stands, Capital Metro has pledged to take an all-options-on-the-table approach, which means that goofy notions such as gondola are being given — at least superficially — the same credence as rail and bus rapid transit.

But, hey, that’s cool because it’ll be a big, open process with lots of openings for public engagement. Plus, unlike other projects undertaken by CAMPO, CTRMA, and so many other Capital Metro endeavors, this thing will focus exclusively on the urban core. As Capital Metro Long Range Planning Director Javier Argüello said in an email sent on Friday to members of the Project Connect community advisory group, “The purpose of Project Connect is to enhance existing high-capacity transit services and to select new high-capacity transit investment corridors, thereby improving travel into, out of, and around Central Austin.” (emphasis mine)

Which all sounds like a blast, until you dig the thoughts of one Wade Cooper, chairman of the transit agency’s board of directors. During Monday’s meeting of the board’s Finance, Audit, and Administration Committee, Cooper indicated that he is primarily interested in the “into” and “out of” aspect of Argüello’s assessment and less so on the “around” part.

He related the tale of a survey of his law firm’s employees that lengthy commutes for many of his coworkers.

Said Cooper, “We at Cap Metro — and a lot of the transit stuff I’ve done before — have been very focused on the city of Austin and the needs of individuals in the city of Austin. If my firm is any indication, half of our potential customers are folks that need help outside of the 10-mile radius.”

After discussing the matter with Community Involvement Manager Jackie Nirenberg, Cooper concluded, “I think part of our role as the Cap Metro board is really to be speaking to the needs of the region. This is a document that will have profound influence, but if it doesn’t have profound influence outside the geography of the city of Austin, it’s sort of a wasted effort in my judgment.”

The complete exchange is below. Your job is to read it, weigh it, and consider whether it’s worth your time to get involved in a process that is not-yet-irrevocably tilting towards empowering more of that sweet, sweet sprawl that you love so, so much.

Wade Cooper, Capital Metro Board Chairman: Our law firm did a survey to look at the commute patterns of the people who work at the law firm. The most interesting thing was more than half of our employees go more than 10 miles to get to work and about 25 percent go more than 15 miles to get to work. And I thought that was pretty significant but then I found out that among the people that they surveyed, actually we have a smaller percent of people who commute those lengthy distances. And that may be because our jobs are relatively high-paying compared to other jobs downtown. But what struck me as you were talking, we at CapMetro and a lot of the transit stuff I’ve done before, have been very focused on the city of Austin and the needs of individuals in the city of Austin. If my firm is any indication, half of our potential customers are folks that need help are outside of the 10-mile radius. So I wonder if our public engagement is weighted appropriately.

Jackie Nirenberg, Capital Metro Community Involvement Manager: I’m glad you asked that question because we’re gonna be doing a significant amount of outreach to the outlying communities, recognizing that most people, or a good portion of the people who work downtown and in the center of the city are coming from other places. So, yes, that will be an important part of our public involvement. And they’re represented in both our technical advisory committee and our community advisory committee as well.

WC: That’s something, as we’ve talked about public involvement, it just struck me looking at the commute patterns… half the issue at least in terms of the roadways are people coming from way outside (the city center)

JN: And one of our challenges frankly in messaging this to the folks that live in the core is that it’s not just about the core.

WC: It’s hard to tell people who live in the core that it’s not just about them. (laughter)

JN: It’s quite challenging. And we’ve already gotten a little bit of push-back on that from central Austin neighborhood people.

WC: And it’s even harder to tell the neighborhoods that it’s not just about the neighborhoods.

JN: That’s one of our big challenges is getting people to understand that we’ve got to pull the camera back. We’ve got people coming in… and it’s affecting their daily lives here for the folks that live here, it’s still an effect on what their daily commute is like and what their daily quality of life is like if all of those folks who drive in these single-occupancy vehicles in and out of the city every day. So yes, absolutely, it’s going to be a big focus of our public involvement.

WC: In our strategic plan, we on the board underscored the need and desire on our part to be regional leaders. So I think part of our role as the CapMetro board is really to be speaking to the needs of the region. This is a document that will have profound influence, but if it doesn’t have profound influence outside the geography of the city of Austin, it’s sort of a wasted effort in my judgment.

I got bored

September 29, 2016

So here’s the more or less complete transcript from Mayor Steve Adler’s second mobility bond speech yesterday in front of the Central Texas Democratic Forum. Any garbled audio is noted. I also included the Q&A but left out one particularly irrelevant Q. The typos are mine; the syntax is all his.

I think everybody in this city knows we have some main challenges. We have affordability issues and mobility issues in this city. I think they’re intertwined and we’re ultimately not going to be able solve either one of them without solving the other. And I think that this mobility bond is one important leg for us to be able to do the work.

A $720 million bond on transportation. That’s a lot of money. $720 million. But I would point out to you that the Highway 183 project that’s happening right now on the north part of town is a $650 million project that’s now on the way. The 183 project that is on the east side of town, Ed Bluestein, is a $750 or $742 million project.

Every time we do an intersection of two state highways and we do flyover lanes, that’s a $250 million project. Do you know how much has done cumulatively on transportation bonds over the last 20 years? $630 million. One of the reasons why we have congestion in this city is because we have chosen not to do anything about it.

Austin, in classic fashion, confronted with two alternatives, A and B, will seek to first demonstrate that neither A nor B are perfect, and having determined that neither A nor B are perfect, we will then choose option C, which is to do nothing. And we’ve run out of town. We actually have to do work.

Just by way of scale, I just got back from Seattle. Seattle also has a transportation bond up on their November election. It’s not just the city, it’s the city and the surrounding areas so it’d be like the City of Austin doing it and Travis County. We have in that area 2 million, Seattle has 2.8 million people. Their bond that’s up in November is a transportation package for $54 billion. [gasps] $54 billion. Do you wanna know what going big really is? That’s going big.

So we have a transportation bond package that divides things into three buckets. First bucket, almost $500 million of the$720 goes to those streets that are the most congested points that more people live next to than other streets. We’re talking about South Lamar, North Lamar, Burnet Road, Airport, Riverside, MLK/969, we’re talking about William Cannon, Slaughter Lane. We’re talking about implementing the corridor studies that we have spent millions of dollars on. When we picked these projects as part of the 2010 and 2012 bond elections, we spent thousands of community stakeholder, neighborhood organizations time ??? thousands of people, thousands of hours, millions of dollars. Perhaps the most community vetted plans, transportation plans this city has had.

Now we’re talking about stepping up and doing the work.

Also in that package is identifying and initiating the corridor studies on what will be the next set of roads. Pleasant Valley Road, Rundberg Lane, Manchaca, Colony Park. So the next roads are put in queue in order to have work that’s done.

It looks as if 60 maybe a little bit more percent of the people in this city live within a mile and a quarter of these roads. And while, in this community when we’re focused on mobility, we’re doing work on 183 to the northwest, 183 to the east and south, that we’re doing the managed lane on Mopac. Not everybody is going to want to get out of their car and into a bus. But I will tell you that very few people will want to get out of their car and into a bus if the bus is stuck in the same traffic that the car is stuck in.

If we really want to do a mode change in this city, when you look at all the cities and the work they have done, like Atlanta here 2 percent of the vehicles that are now traveling are carrying over 20 percent of the people on these managed lane roads… If we really want to do that work, we have to do something like these managed lanes so that transit is always traveling at a relatively high rate of speed.

And then we have the I35 corridor where hopefully we’re going to get managed lanes put in there. That work is happening in and around us. We have to do work on our streets here locally as well.

So that’s the first bucket. That’s most of it.

The second bucket, about $100 million is predominately sidewalk work. It is safe passages to schools for children. Now we have children that walking in the street in Airport Boulevard to get to and from school. It’s just not right.

But in this second bucket, most of that $100 million is being spent on sidewalk work. It also has work being spent on bicycle master plan, also the Urban Trail Master Plan.

I’d also add safety component to it. Some of our most dangerous intersections and some of our most substandard roads that we looked at.

And then the third bucket, which is the smallest of the three buckets, deals with some pain points that are not proximate to the corridor work that’s being done. So work on 360, Spicewood Springs Road, on Anderson Mill, Parmer Lane, 620 and 2222. That’s the (macro?).

I think it’s real important that this Council did something that Councils have never done to the extent that we did. Not only did we pass those buckets, but they ??? resolution, a criteria, that we wanted the staff to use when they went and said how they would go about and where they would spend the money within those identified projects. And it’s set the criteria that has to be used. Number one was dealing with congestion. Number two was dealing with transit. Those were really the criteria to be ??? And not only did we say we wanted those to be the criteria that got used, we actually passed a resolution that said that that would be the criteria to be used, and we passed a resolution putting in language so that that resolution would be a contract with the voters and just as enforceable as the bond language itself. That’s something that City Councils just have not done in Austin. And I’m proud to be part of a Council that included that so that people who vote, citizens and residents in the community, know exactly what’s going on.

So this is a package on a very basic level deals with the things that we have to start doing in this city if we’re going to begin dealing with mobility.

Our people tell us that we have $9 billion of unmet needs in transportation in the city of Austin. $9 billion. This bond package obviously doesn’t address all of them. But it is a significant step, the most significant step that we’ve taken as a community to deal with congestion in a meaningful way, to deal with setting up transit, corridors, and significant material way, dealing with safety in our community in a strong and material way.

Which is why it has enjoyed the support at this point of labor, of the Democratic Party, of virtually club and organization that this has gone before. This has pretty widespread support in the community. And frankly we have to do well on this bond to send a message and to establish a pattern and a practice in this community to build momentum. Because we took a significant amount of money that we can bond without raising taxes — $250 million that we did not make part of this transportation package. We formed as a Council, we formed a citizens bond commission that will be seated with that capacity so that it can start taking a look at the other things that we need such as affordable housing, flood buyouts, parks and open spaces… so we have set up that process as well. So it’s important that we do well on this election.

Q: WHY NO RAIL

I will tell you first that I”m a rail supporter. And it’s hard for me to imagine this city, this metropolitan area where we have 4 million people in it in the not too distant future where we don’t have a operating system like that because you just have to have something like that to move people around.

But this bond package was about moving forward with those things where there was wide consensus. Quite frankly, we really couldn’t launch this until we had the TNC election that played through in May. We didn’t want to miss this election cycle in November when we’ll have 300,000 people potentially voting in November. So the question for us was, was there a significant and meaningful and material transportation bond package that we could put together in the months of May and June and there is not that level of consensus on rail. But I am wanting to join with my fellow Council members not only to say that this is something can be considered the bond advisory commission but it’s also something that I’m committed to working toward in order to build that.

Q: MAYOR, A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE QUESTIONED ONE SPOKE IN THE TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE THAT YOU MENTIONED AND THAT’S SOUTH LAMAR. AND OUR NEIGHBORHOOD LISTSERV AND TODAY’S PAPER, A LETTER TO THE EDITOR, NARROWING FOUR LANES DOWN TO ONE LANE IN ORDER TO ACCOMMODATE BUSES AND YOU DON’T HAVE SUPPORT FROM CAPITAL METRO, TO MANY PEOPLE APPEARS TO BE A NON-STARTER.

Mark Twain once said, actually he didn’t say it, it’s attributed to him, “Things that are not true can circle the globe in the amount of time that the truth takes to put on its shoes.” [crowd chuckles] There is nothing in this bond election that takes away lanes for travel lanes for bike lanes. Nowhere in this project. There is nowhere in the corridor studies that have been presented that take away lanes at all, other than on Riverside Drive and in Guadalupe. The plans that were presented in the corridor had three stages to them. Short term, midterm, and long term. Some of the corridors have two stages, short term and long term. The congestion relief components of those corridor plans are not built out in the short term scenario. You have to do the long term, you have to do the full design. So wherever you build you have to make sure you go all the way so that you realize the results. This Council looked at that, the short term midterm, and long term plans, and directed the staff to come back and do the long term plans. There is some short term planning on some places on Lamar that says an interim period of time, let’s take away a lane in order to facilitate the buses or facilitate the bikes. But those same plans real clearly say, but in the long term plan you shouldn’t be doing that because this is what we’re going to do in order to not lose any lane capacity. So anybody who says that we’re losing lanes the way you just described is looking at a short term that is not the state intention of the City Council to execute. Nor does it fit within the criteria that is the contract with the voters where we said, “You’re going to prioritize what’s necessary to do construction.” The only place where potentially someone could walk in, as I’ve seen on the listserv and blogs myself, that we’re losing tens of miles of lanes, is we’re talking about losing chicken lanes. Because chicken lanes slow down traffic because people are pulling into those lanes and making left turns in the middle of traffic. So what we’re doing is putting medians down the middle of the roads which all traffic engineers will tell you will speed traffic, speed through-put, and deal with congestion. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re putting in medians, we’re putting in dedicated turn lanes to allow people to be able to turn. This package does not lose lanes. It adds lanes.

Q: WHY ISN’T CAPITAL METRO SUPPORTING

Capital Metro is supporting it. The question with respect to Capital Metro was what do they think about the bus pull-offs with the queue jumps. And what Capital Metro said was, “Those are good, but we would rather have dedicated bus lanes.” And I hear that. And I would rather Capital Metro have dedicated bus lanes too. Dedicated bus lanes are put into this plan where they can be done without losing lanes. But these plans don’t have us acquiring additional right-of-way. It’s making a smarter use of the right-of-way that we have. And it does it in a way that does not lose lanes. Capital Metro will tell you that they do support bus pullouts and queue jumps especially those bus pullouts happening just past the traffic light so that in the sequencing of the traffic light, they’re able to pull back into traffic. But certainly they would rather have dedicated lanes and I have no fault with that. But if they’re not going to get dedicated lanes, this is what Capital Metro wants.

Q: HOW LONG IS SHORT TERM

We’re not going to do any short term. We’re going to do the full tilt boogie on these plans to the extent that we’re able to. To do all the corridor plans, it costs about $1.5 billion. We’re not going to be able to do $1.5 billion, just like we cant’ do all $9 billion in total needs. But what we’ve told the staff to do is come back with an execution plan, a logistical plan, and a priortization plan that says this is the most impactful way to spend up to almost $500 million and then we’re going to do that in the most impactful way. We’re going to do it in a way that enables us to leverage additional funds. You don’t get money when you go tot he state or the feds unless you come to the table with money. We’ve been watching what’s happening in Hays County and Williamson County. I was talking to [Hays County Commissioners/CAMPO Chair] Will Conley as we were developing this recipe that we’re talking about perhaps moving forward, and a lot of these are state highways, Lamar or Airport, these are state highways. They don’t feel like state highways or look like state highways, but that’s what they are. Hays County and Williamson County raised money in order to improve those roads. They raised a bond of about $140 million and they’ve leveraged it to almost $500 million. And we want to be trying to do that both at the state level and the federal level. We also want to do these roads in conjunction with the developers and the people that own properties that we can leverage their involvement so that we can stretch these dollars as much as we can.

Q: TALK ABOUT THE STATE ROADS. MY UNDERSTANDING IS THAT TXDOT CONTROLS THOSE ROADS, CORRECT? IS THE CITY OF AUSTIN GOING TO BE DOING CONSTRUCTION ON LAMAR AND BURNET, IS THE CITY OF AUSTIN TAKING UP THOSE ROADS FROM TXDOT SO THAT TXDOT CAN BUILD ITS TOLL ROAD ON 35?

The state has not agreed, the city has not agreed to take over those roads. Sen. Watson has suggested that one of the things that should be considered in terms of financing I-35, the managed lane on I-35, that one of the things that should be considered is the city taking over maintenance and operation on those roads for some certain value that would have to be set but that’s the senator’s suggestion, it’s on a list of eight different things that should be considered. And I appreciate what he’s doing to move that project forward. And I appreciate he’s given us all suggestions on how it might be funded. But we have not agreed to do that.

Q: MAYOR, I LIKE YOUR BUCKET 2, I LIKE THE BICYCLE LANES AND I LIKE THE TRAILS, AND IT’S A SMALL PIECE OF THE TOTAL PACKAGE. BUT ARE YOU CONCERNED, THAT THERE’S A LOT PEOPLE IN TOWN WHO ARE ANTI-BICYCLE AND ANTI-TRAIL, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT A SMALL PIECE OF THE BOND PACKAGE PULLING DOWN THE REST OF THE PACKAGE?

When you put together a plan like this that is trying to draw on the widest consensus of the community, that is not the same thing as saying that everybody in the community will like every part of it. And to the degree that not everybody likes every part of it, it’s a concern. So I see the blogs that say we have too much bicycle and active transportation. And I see the blogs that say we don’t have enough bicycle and active transportation. And I see them both…. But I will say that the indications are that support for this is pretty widespread all over the community because I think we’ve found the right balance on those things. This is not pedestrian, bicycle, sidewalk is not the bulk of what is this plan. But it is more than has ever happened in our history in those areas on a bond program.

Q: DID YOU CONSIDER HAVING THE THREE BUCKETS AS SEPARATE VOTES?

We did consider that and we discussed that as a Council, because we obviously could do this as three buckets, put it on separately or put it together. And we had some people that said, “I’m only gonna support this if we split this up so that I can vote on them individually.” And we had other people who said, “I’m only gonna vote for this if I know that if I support this aspect of it, this aspect will also happen. And if I don’t know this aspect is going to happen, then I’m not sure I want to vote for this.” So some people demanded that we put it all together so that they could be sure that when they made that exchange, when they voted for it, they would be getting the whole package. It’s just like the bicycle stuff. There’s no way to call that in a way that was going to please everybody.