Skip to content

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.

Advertisements
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: