Auto-centric mentality primary deterrent to public transportation initiatives

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Traffic backs up on I-35 south of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. during rush hour. 
Traffic backs up on I-35 south of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. during rush hour. 

Congestion is the buzzword when talking about Austin traffic, most notably in the discussion of Austin’s growth. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2013 study on I-35 traffic predicted the commute in a personal vehicle from Round Rock to Austin would reach 3 hours by 2035 despite efforts to improve the flow of traffic. That amount of time is intolerable in a car.

The TAMU Institute also conducted a poll this year and found that only 38 percent of Texans agreed with the statement “public transportation reduces congestion.” While not surprising, the study involves a flawed premise: that the purpose of public transportation is to reduce congestion for commuters in personal vehicles. Of the people surveyed, 91 percent used a personal vehicle as their primary mode of transportation, further evidencing the bias of the respondents.

The mentality that public transportation’s primary purpose is to reduce congestion is flawed. Improvements in public transportation will not reduce congestion, according to the TAMU’s 2013 study, but public transportation can provide an alternative.

Regarding Austin’s urban rail proposal, the general consensus is, again, that it will not solve congestion for the people who continue to use their personal vehicles. But for the people who do decide to use the public transportation options available to them, such as rail that can skip the traffic, congestion is non-existent. The current proposal is the beginning of an expanded network that would eventually reach Round Rock.  Austin is growing, and the mess that is I-35 will only worsen, but with public transportation alternatives, Round Rock residents will have the option to skip the 3-hour commute.

Texas’ stubborn auto-centric mindset, continually prioritizing concerns of unwavering drivers of personal vehicles, will be a detriment to any public transportation initiative because the question will always be, “How will it help me drive my car faster?” when it should be, “How will it help me get where I’m going faster?” From planning to funding to fundamental disputes of development priorities, there are plenty of problems with Austin’s urban rail proposal up for a vote this November. But the fact that the proposal will not solve congestion of personal vehicles is not one of them.


Haight is an associate editor.