Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#ATXCouncil Mobility Bond hearing doesn't completely suck....

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Galatians 6:9

[Author's Note: The Austin Monitor has more here.]

Yesterday's council mobility committee hearing about a potential November transportation bond...was substantially less terrible than it could have been.  We suppose one benefit of low expectations is that they're not impossible to exceed.  We came into the hearing expecting to have guns blazing and to be a solid "Hell NO"; we are pleased to report that, at least for now, that attitude is premature.

If you're looking for takeaways, here's two: the mobility committee cut the price tag from the Mayor's proposal into less than half AND Don Zimmerman voted "AYE" on Council Member Kitchen's (yes, THAT Ann Kitchen) proposal.

[Note: Our testimony can be found at the 68:15 mark.]

We encouraged council to "think small" and to use this process "to build trust."  It doesn't take a genus to realize that, between the 2014 rail bond and the recent Prop. 1 debacle, relations between council and the citizenry are (to put it mildly) frayed.  We believe a small proposal can allow tangible progress to be made in some areas while simultaneously lowering the temperature in the room as we discuss longer term solutions.  We also support breaking any potential bond package into its component parts, giving voters a diverse mosaic of a la carte options and allowing them to direct council.  We were pleasantly surprised that several other speakers, who might not share our philosophical outlook, also encouraged Council to break any potential bond package into it's component parts.  We fear a big, clunky, bond package with lots of moving parts will be as divisive and noxious as the two previous referenda mentioned above.  If there were ever a time for cautious incrementalism over "boldness," a November 2016 transportation bond is it.

As to substance, we remain intrigued (though far from sold) by Mayor Adler's proposal to streamline major city corridors.  Between the bus 'queue jumps', the left turn 'bays', and the traffic signal timing improvements there could be a lot of low hanging fruit that could substantially improve mobility on major city streets without busting the budget.  Done properly, streamlining major city corridors could encapsulate the Pareto principle.  That being said, we have little faith in the ability of the city's transportation department to implement the corridor proposal in anything resembling a competent or timely manner.  Depending on the details, we are also open to discussing a modestly sized package that could begin to address Austin's woefully inadequate sidewalks.  We are open to a modest amount of highway expansion, though we doubt there's time to do anything effective in time for November.  In many ways, highways are similar to rail in that right now probably isn't the time to do something that divisive.

The crowd that testified ran the gamut.  Many supported the corridor plan.  Some supported rail.  Some supported bike paths.  Sidewalks seemed to be almost universally popular.  Listening to the diverse array of preferences solidified our conviction that any transportation package should be broken into its component parts and presented to voters a la carte.  One personal note: We were astonished by the number of people who used their opportunity to testify to espouse vague gobbledygook yet were unable to ask council "we would like you to do x, y, or z" regardless of whatever x, y, or z might have been.

Council member Garza probably captured the sentiment in the room best when she voiced her concerns about "bond fatigue" and wondered whether "it's too soon" for another major transportation initiative.  The committee voted to move forward a placeholder proposal to enable discussion at the full council.  In the event a bond proposition does move forward, we will know the details by August; we (really, really, really) hope it doesn't come to this but, if necessary, that's more than enough time to mount an opposition campaign.

Bottom Line: Yesterday's hearing epitomized the best of what 10-1 is supposed to be.  The process was open, inclusive, and fair and we commend Council member Kitchen (*) for diligently allowing everyone to express their views without it turning into a logistical cluster[you-know-what].  Time will tell....


* - Betcha didn't see that one coming!

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