Looking Ahead: Austin Traffic Solutions

Screen shot 2015-08-18 at 10.52.39 AMPart one of our Looking Ahead series

News Flash: Austin is growing fast, and traffic is a big problem.

This is hardly news for most of us living in Austin, but a recent National Journal poll is the latest confirmation of Austinites’ views on this: More than half of local residents consider traffic and other issues related to growth as the biggest challenge facing the area.

And even more impactful: more than two-thirds (68 %) feel that Austin is unprepared to handle the population growth.

But Austin is rather bi-polar on some key issues:

What makes us unique isn’t driving growth

Asked why the city has grown so robustly, about two out of five respondents identified the growth of the high-tech and biotechnology industries, while one out of four picked the area’s “attractive quality of life,” and one out of six pointed to Texas’s red state model of low taxes and less regulation of business.

But when asked what “makes Austin most unique compared to other cities” a resounding 65% picked its music and arts scene, compared to just 12% that identified its high-technology industry.

When asked whether the region’s population growth has produced an overall positive or negative effect, those polled divided almost exactly in half: 47% viewed it as mostly positive, while 44% viewed it as mostly negative. That split decision reflected a stark generation gap: while 55% of Austin millennials viewed the growth as mostly positive, 56% of baby boomers thought it mostly negative. (Those in between, in Generation X, were split almost exactly.)

How do we improve Austin’s quality of life?

Interesting fissures emerged when respondents were asked what choices could most improve the local quality of life. The top two answers reflected competing liberal and conservative priorities: 34% said the region would benefit most from “more local investments by government in areas like education and transportation” while 29% said “lower local and property taxes would help most.” (More local investments by business, at 14%, a reduction in crime and drugs, at 10%, and more local volunteering, at 9%, trailed.) Local Democrats in this mostly liberal area were about twice as likely to pick investments as tax cuts, while Republicans tilted in the other direction by more than two-to-one. The generation gap was substantial too, with millennials bending strongly toward investment and a plurality of baby boomers preferring tax cuts. Revealingly, in a region with many white-collar liberals, those earning at least $100,000 annually expressed the strongest preference for more public investments.

Neither 100% right or wrong

In 2013 The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in a study for the Austin Chamber of Commerce concluded that road building (public spending) alone won’t mitigate traffic congestion. Strategic road and transit improvements can help, but that’s not the whole story.

The individual choice side is also sort of right, but it isn’t about lower taxes as much as it is about creating transportation options that allow individuals to spend far less than they do now. That will mean a radical “rethink” of transportation, our next topic, but it also means using the transportation system we have more efficiently. That happens as we all use more bus/rail, bike, carpooling, telecommuting, and traveling during off-peak hours instead of all of us driving alone at the same time to the same places – that is the traffic we hate!

Before you respond…”but I don’t have any other option!” We at Movability help lots of people find and use these options. None of them knew they had workable alternatives to sitting in traffic before we helped them. Everyone one of these people have changed their travel, not to improve traffic flow – although it does – but to save money, have more time to do something besides staring at a bumper, or maybe to be a little more active and healthy.

Your choices are something you can begin to change today or tomorrow. Once you think about mobility a little differently, you do not have to make the same choice every day, and you get personal benefits for becoming a smart mobility shopper. Rethinking how (and when) you travel around Austin is a way you can be part of the solution, and Movability is here to help you do just that. Check out our toolkit or get in touch if you aren’t sure where to start.

Photo: Marsha Miller

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