On Tuesday, Austinites voted down local Proposition 1, a bond proposal for a prospective urban rail development. As contentious as rail has always been in Austin, the future city council needs to know that this is not evidence that Austin doesn’t want or need an adequate public transportation system. This is an example of city planners not listening to what the citizens want.
The most important issue concerning transportation in Austin, the solution that many Austinites want, is easing the congestion concentrated on the two arteries into the urban core: Mopac and I-35. Despite claims to the contrary made by pro-rail advocates, an urban rail would not solve this main area of congestion. Sure, there were minimal park and ride options near the terminus of the route, but not nearly enough to combat this problem.
More and more people are moving into the urban core of Austin, but the fact remains that the majority of Austin’s population lives outside of the urban core and uses the highways to get into the city and to their place of work. Ideally, Austin could have a dense urban center convenient for urban rail use, but the reality is that the city is still suffering from suburban sprawl.
The reasons for living outside of the urban center are more complicated than merely the want of a large house and a backyard. Affordability often plays a large role in the decision because urban housing is out of reach for most Austinites.
Proposition 1 did not address the needs of Austinites, and it was rightly defeated. But the issues at hand are still pressing. As a city, we need to immediately begin moving forward. The city must address the true transportation needs of its citizens, not the development wants of potential investors. It took 14 years for another rail option to be put on the ballot. I have confidence that a better system will not take another 14 years. But in the mean time, the city must consider and implement other options. Rail is not the only way to get around, and the next city council should immediately begin looking at improving and expanding existing infrastructure for multimodal transportation including buses, bikes, pedestrian pathways, and yes, even roads for cars.
Haight is an associate editor.