Austin Deserves Better

Warning, we are about to engage in advocacy. Movability, as an organization, is a reluctant advocate; only deciding to advocate after we continually hear similar problems from people living or working downtown and because we think the problems can be fixed.

Our surveys of downtown employees tell us that a lot of people want to save money and do their part to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment and city. They see using travel options as a way to get both. For some people, transit or bicycling works well enough now, but for most people it is too big of an “ask,” too painful or frightening.  It’s also sometimes too big an “ask” if it is beyond their ability, e.g., the cost in time outweighs the dollar savings. In response to these issues, we are developing new ways to give people improved options that will solve these problems.

We think Austin deserves transit and bicycling that is more friendly, inviting and workable than what exists now. In some cases, transit asks people for too much time, especially when a rider is expected to show up 5-10 minutes early then the bus ride takes twice as long as driving. Sometimes bicycling doesn’t feel completely safe, especially when there is no option other than riding on a street with lots of speeding cars. It should be little surprise that transit or bicycling is just too hard or daunting for some people, even when they really want the “good” that can come from driving less. So here are some specific fixes that can be accomplished.

The Transit Austin Deserves

Movability thinks that MetroRapid will be a game changer for transit use in Austin.  People will see the difference in service that MetroRapid offers compared to regular bus service, which Austin ultimately deserves to have throughout our bus system. MetroRapid bus stops will be more like mini-stations rather than a pole in the ground. People waiting for a Rapid Bus will know, in real time, when the bus will arrive and schedules will become more reliable because MetroRapid will have the ability to get through traffic lights more efficiently and with fewer stops. These small but important shifts amount to travel times approximately 20% faster with MetroRapid, making a five-mile trip go from 30 to 24 minutes, becoming competitive with all other forms of travel.

More people are using CapMetro for more trips (see graphic for 2012 ridership gains), but increased services aren’t keeping pace. As our first suggestion, we think Capital Metro, the City of Austin and perhaps private partners need to look at an East-West circulator that provides frequent service, focused and branded as the connection between the Convention Center Area and the Market District. This circulator can connect current transit service on Brazos, Congress, and Guadalupe/Lavaca to help solve the bad congestion (distinguished from the good congestion, e.g., the area is a popular destination) in the Market District. Rail may eventually serve this need, but Market District employees, new residents and visitors to Seaholm and all the Austinites traveling to or through this area can’t wait.

The Cycling Austin Deserves

Bicycle commuting in Austin has doubled in the past couple of years, but it is still difficult for most people to make cycling a bigger part of their lives – as we see it, it’s the environment making it hard not the actual cycling itself. Putting most people on a bicycle in heavy and high-speed traffic will not feel safe. Movability has begun to work with the City and their Green Lane program to identify and prioritize improvements to create safe, even inviting, bike lanes on key routes. More improvements such as the cycle track on Rio Grande will encourage more and more riders of all ages and abilities.

Also, many older buildings downtown do not have adequate (or any) facilities for tenants to shower, change clothes, or store their bicycle.  Those interested in bicycling to work consider this a major barrier to cycling especially during a Texas summer. Movability is beginning to work with the City on incentives for new developments and possibly retrofit incentives for existing buildings to get these facilities into more buildings.  We are also working with developers and the City to identify opportunities for bike stations that would provide more facilities downtown to make bike commuting easier.

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