Translogic Features Austin as A Leader of Innovative Transportation

AOL’s Translogic recently featured a visit to Austin, showcasing our tech-savvy transportation infrastructure. In less than six minutes the webisode dashes through multiple transit projects and a variety of facts about our urban development’s forward thinking and multimodal emphasis. Because this whirlwind feature left us simultaneously flattered and eager to talk more about the issues at hand, we thought we might pick up where Translogic left off on some of the key issues that are making a big change around town.

If you’re living in Austin, you probably know by now that the city is growing at a rapid pace.  It’s been estimated that about 75 people are moving here daily—that’s a 30% population growth per year! That means our little city has some big challenges ahead. What are we doing about them? Well, let’s take a closer look at some of what Translogic mentioned.

As Rob Spillar (the Transportation Director for Austin) explains, we have to start from the basic pedestrian experience and build up to a system of options where people aren’t forced to drive everywhere, but can choose the most efficient options for the trip they need to take. That is the best way to curb the gridlock of traffic that we already have, which will only get worse if don’t significantly change the way we address transportation. Under that notion, Austin has recently approved plans for the Pedestrian Bridge over 360 and Barton Creek which will complete a path and increase usability for cyclists and pedestrians.  There are also plans in motion to increase designated downtown sidewalks from 6 feet to 10-18 feet wide to open space for sidewalk cafes, activities, and a vibrant streetscape–similar to the model of West 2nd Street.

Next, there are a lot more people bicycling to get to work, especially in urban areas.  And that is a good thing, especially if design increases safety and reduces conflicts.  So, likewise the City and Capital Metro are responding to the demand for bikeways, shower facilities, storage stations, etc. to meet our growing needs. Many employers have inevitably become more receptive to the likelihood of employees biking to work and are seeking ways to encourage commuter programs and provide showers to satisfy this progressive, eco-friendly transit option. Additionally, a bike share program is set to debut Spring 2013 (see interview with Craig Staley @ bike share).

Capital Metro and the City are also partnering to increase transit services with Rapid Bus starting in 2014, expand rail services, and improve local and express services to reduce wait and trip times, even make service more attractive with WiFi, real-time bus information, and more.

This does not mean the current approach to transportation is neglecting roads and car travel. There are major improvements underway for MoPac, I-35 and more.  Other great options are Car2Go and ZipCar, which conveniently include gas and insurance in their costs.

Now comes the tech-savvy part, where Karl Popham of Austin Energy shines a light on Austin’s electric vehicle developments with Charge Point America. We currently have over 100 charging stations, which you can locate at MyChargePoint.net. As further incentive to drive electric—Green Choice Program powered by west Texas Wind– GoElectricDrive.com calculates the economic impact of how much you are saving in comparison to driving a gas vehicle.

Thoughts on Walkability

People prefer living where their home naturally extends into a community full of neighbors to visit with, public spaces (like pools and parks for kids to play together), retail areas to window shop, restaurants, and shops to buy groceries. Having places to explore and discover new nooks and crannies extends a sense of home. This is what makes Walk Score such a hot topic when comparing locations.

Living in a walk-able location allows residents to walk for exercise and purpose. For instance, my partner and I enjoy walking to restaurants, bars and shops in our east central neighborhood. The parks and pools offer a nice break and a shady spot for relaxation. Additionally, we combine light exercise with a breath of fresh air by walking along the Lady Bird Lake trail to grab dinner or drinks downtown. And if we wander too far or get tired, we know we can always hop on a bus home. When it comes to more challenging trips like grocery shopping at the HEB over a mile away we take our bikes or a Car2Go.  These simple ventures have become part of our daily life. These excursions give us time to walk and talk, run into neighbors, meet new people in our community and keep tabs on the neighborhood. Would you believe we have all of this with a Walk Score of only 54!?

Such daily walkabouts are less common because we stopped building these kinds of neighborhoods in the 1960s and 70s in the Austin area.

Thus it costs a lot more to live in these older, more centrally located neighborhoods like Clarksville, South Congress and downtown.  On top of that, many homebuyers, especially families, want larger houses. But building larger houses is hard given development regulations in Austin, plus they cost more to build in the Central city.

The good news:

Austin is beginning to revisit restrictive ordinances especially in areas like Lamar and Burnet where more housing could be built without too much disruption to neighborhoods that work. This will allow more public spaces and places to develop along these areas. Corridors and connections to these places could also be improved, such that walking or cycling a few blocks is easier and safer than it is today, thereby increasing your sense of home.

Check your Walkscore and begin to discover what’s around your home today!

Mellow Johnny’s Craig Staley Talks Bike Share

Following the news about Austin’s city-wide Bike Share Program, which is slated for a progressive launch beginning in Spring 2013 Movability Austin caught up with key-player, Mellow Johnny’s General Manager, Craig Staley to talk shop on what this means for Austinites.

Q: Why did you and Mellow Johnny’s get involved in starting a bike share in Austin?

We saw an opportunity to leverage the strength of our brand and the bike industry knowledge that we possess to get bike share off the ground in Austin. We view bike share as the single best addition to our transit system when you consider the cost of it versus the impact it will make.

Q: How is bike share important for Austin?

Bike share is huge for Austin. We lack a built-up system of public transit, but have a huge forecast for population growth—especially downtown.

Q: How will bike share work in Austin?

We think it will be a huge success in Austin. Our weather, downtown growth, attitude, and transit needs point to this being the right answer at the right time for our city

Q: Who are the others involved, and ideally what others need to be involved?

So far on the private side we have companies such as GSD&M, Whole Foods, Cirrus Logic, and Austin Ventures. CapMetro, The Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau have all vocalized support. I would hope that we eventually see strong support and involvement from UT, ACC and St. Edwards, once they see the value and impact of bike share.