Wheel Deal

Jay Blazek Crossley, Farm&City


This is my proposal for a safe, multimodal transportation bond for Austin City Council to send to voters in November 2020, in response to the WheelDeal effort, a project of three local volunteer transportation policy activists. While I believe there are very important ideas listed below – some of which may not have been proposed in the original WheelDeal or elsewhere – this is a somewhat rushed attempt to articulate these ideas to satisfy the parameters of this process this group has decided to invite others to participate in.

Section I: Identify plan components you support

Many elements of my proposal below match with elements of the Wheel Deal proposal.

I support efforts to increase operating funding for Capital Metro and am working on that at the state level. I think the proposal for a Land Acquisition Fund deserves attention and further fleshing out. I think ensuring operating funds are sufficient before the November 2020 vote is generally a good approach, and don’t mean to support or oppose this method by not talking about it here.

In terms of local funding for the package to be voted on in November 2018, I believe that a large city bond backed by property taxes is merited and that the people of Austin would happily increase property taxes to pay for these needed improvements. However, the amount that is possible is perhaps more of an art than a science. I believe that using Tax Increment Financing – possibly combined with Federal TIFIA loan – should be considered for billions of dollars worth of funding. New TIFs – as proposed by Council Member Leslie Pool for two red line stations – could be a crucial tool for the future of Austin.

However, I believe that we can do a better job than other cities have done in optimizing the design of TIFs. I believe that any new TIF should include provisions for some of the incremental increase in taxes to return to the city and county general funds, such that the financial and tax benefits of the improvements in some way are shared broadly across the city and county. Also, affordable housing and ETOD strategies should be thoughtfully woven into TIF structures.

Section II: Identify plan components you want to change and your suggested changes

See proposed package below.

Section III: How you would help us organize to get your alternative adopted by Council

Farm&City has been working on a 2020 safe, multimodal bond vote for the people of Austin for several years and will continue doing that work, including working with the many nonprofits and community groups that also already have been working on this. Personally, I’d love to serve on the city Bond Election Advisory Task Force to help create the actual proposal, as I believe that type of public venue is the proper place to have these discussions equitably. Proposed 2020 Safe, Multimodal Access Bond

Project Connect $4,400 million (+2,900m Federal funding +500m private capital for Green line)

Pedestrian $350 million

Bicycle $275 million

Vision Zero $400 million

Corridors $450 million

Equitable Transit-Oriented Development $120 million

Total $5,995 million

Transit $4,400 million

Build surface light rail for the entirety of the Orange and Blue Lines and all other proposed transit improvements in Project Connect, but do not build the Green Line unless it is privately funded or funded with a TIF based upon Equitable Transit-Oriented Development, with substantial funds from such a TIF going to things other than simply paying for the expensive transit, which will substantially benefit a small group of land owners and developers, while serving the least amount of people per cost of any transit proposal studied in Project Connect, including serving many fewer low income people and people of color than most other proposals.

We should not seek Federal transit funds for the Green Line, but if it can be used as a match for funding for good transit projects, that would be great and would decrease the total total local transit funding need by $333m to $4,067m and increase the Federal funding to 3,233m, with the total local price tag coming to $5,662m.

I personally am not opposed to Bus Rapid Transit or robot Bus Rapid Transit. Given the materials presented by Capital Metro in the last month, surface light rail for the entirety of the Blue and Orange line seem the best choice for the people of Austin. If we had been ready to propose real robot BRT, that would likely be a better choice than LRT, but we do not appear to have gotten there yet.

Primarily within the confines of this thought experiment, the size of the transit investment is the primary concern, not necessarily the question of BRT or LRT. The question of exactly what to put forward for the Project Connect investment is much more complicated than can be contained within this comment. There remain extremely important questions of exact station locations and how best to optimize BRT or LRT.

Pedestrian $350 million

$150 million Fully fund the remaining need of the High and Very High priority in the Pedestrian Master Plan / ADA Transition Plan. The Austin Pedestrian Advisory Council has invested substantial time in trying to understand how much of the promised $400 million over ten years is not yet funded or expected to be funded. The answer is somewhere between $90 million and $160 million, but I am somewhat confident $150 million is fairly close to what is needed to ensure full funding on the ten year planned spending.

$100 million Safe Routes to School Sidewalk and Pedestrian Infrastructure, highest priority pedestrian projects identified in the SRTS planning process.

$50 million Next highest priority sidewalks in the Sidewalk Master Plan. The ten year plan for $400 million includes completing all missing or broken very high and high priority sidewalks in the City. There are limits to the ability of the City to spend capital money on sidewalks. I believe this proposed package of investments in sidewalks puts us in an optimistic, but possibly attainable territory for the city’s ability to build sidewalks over a normal 8 year bond cycle.

$50 million Neighborhood Greenways. A grid network of quiet streets optimized for 20 mph speed and use by all modes, including walking and wheelchairs, which means substantial cost simply to bring this grid network up to basic sidewalk and ADA ramps and crossings. These funds would work along with bicycle and Vision Zero Neighborhood Greenways funding to complete a network across the entire city. These combined amounts are projected to be able to reach 85% of residents within a quarter mile of this safe streets network.

Bicycle $275 million

$80 million Fully fund the remaining AAA Network of the Bicycle Master Plan. This amount is likely high, as 50% of the network will be built by 2020 and there already is other funding identified for this purpose. However, this amount of additional funding for additional high quality (but not necessarily high cost) bicycle infrastructure would remain warranted beyond the planned AAA network.

$94 million Fully fund the Urban Trails Master Plan, assuming $2 million per mile and 47 miles of remaining need as stated on the city website.

$20 million Safe Routes to School Bicycle Infrastructure, highest priority bicycle access treatments identified in the SRTS planning process.

$50 million Neighborhood Greenways to focus on bicycle treatments in the neighborhood greenways network. This can include redesigning major intersections and crossings of larger streets, while traffic calming measures, such as bulb-outs and traffic circles will be funded through the Vision Zero Speed Management funds.

Vision Zero $400 million

One of, if not the dominant, limiting factor in our hope to allow the people of the Austin region to not have to drive so much is the general lack of safety in our transportation system. A strong majority of Austinites would like to ride bicycles often, but say they do not do it today because of a perception of danger. Similarly, many do not ride transit, because of their perceptions, often realistic, about the lack of safe pedestrian infrastructure to get to and from the transit stations.

We have made terrible mistakes in design and in the priorities that have been handed to our engineers for about 50 years in Texas. Our neglect from investing in safety improvements for so long means that investing in retrofitting existing infrastructure to be more safe for all users has the highest potential return on investment of any of the potential transportation investments we could make, both in terms of human lives and limbs saved, as well as the potential for reducing car dependency and traffic.

Texas is in the midst of an epidemic of traffic deaths with ten people dying every day and another fifty suffering life-changing serious injuries, such as loss of a limb or permanent brain damage. The number one killer of our children is traffic crashes. And most children who are dying in Austin are dying inside of cars and trucks.

The City of Austin has a moral obligation to give the highest priority to safety improvements across the city for all users, regardless of mode, age, ability, or socioeconomic status. The 2020 transportation bond should include $400 million in Vision Zero investments to give all neighborhoods safe access to all the city has to offer, and to meet our goal of ending preventable traffic deaths in the city by 2016.

A Vision Zero package might look something like this, based upon a priority on three of the top priorities of the Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan - pedestrian safety, intersection safety, and speed:

Intersection Improvements

$50 million to retrofit and fix the next worst major intersections, continuing the program funded in the 2016 bond.

$50 million to retrofit thousands of intersections citywide with smaller interventions, such as painting crosswalks, adding raised crosswalks, eliminating slip lanes, reclaiming right of way for public plazas - focused on narrowing unnecessary and dangerously wide car priority space), signal upgrades, and intelligent transportation solutions.

Speed management $50 million for the Neighborhood Greenways network of safe neighborhood streets, specifically focused on speed management interventions, such as neighborhood traffic circles, bulb-outs and kneck downs, and other design changes to achieve safe operating speeds.

Pedestrian Safety Improvements $50 million for pedestrian safety improvements. The 2020 bond should include significant funding for meeting the backlog of missing and broken sidewalks, but a key element of Vision Zero funding should be focused on pedestrian safety. About a third of the people killed in our transportation system were pedestrians at the time. The 2018 bond included dedicated funding for pedestrian safety improvements, and this bond should build on the success of that program, including safe crossings,

Safe Routes to Schools $50 million to begin meeting the high priority needs identified in the Safe Routes to School program that are not sidewalks or bike infrastructure (proposed for funding as part Pedestrian program). The 2016 Bond included a small amount of funding for Safe Routes to Schools across the city. The Austin Transportation Department and their consultants have just closed public comment on the draft Safe Routes to Schools plans. In that process they identified $600 million in need by looking at every single school in the city and what it would take to make the surrounding neighborhood safe for our kids.

Targeted bicycling safety improvements $25 million for strategic equitable bicycle safety interventions. While the 2020 bond must include fully funding the Bicycle Master Plan, a complimentary project should be undertaken from the Vision Zero side to target

$25 million for protected intersections in the high priority bicycle network

Safety Innovations $50 million for the office of innovative freedom (housed within Parking and Mobility division of ATD).

Over the next two decades, automated and connected vehicles and smart transportation infrastructure will play an increasing role in meeting our goals of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries. However, these technological improvements most certainly are not the most effective things we can do right now, and will not solve the problem on their own. If we are serious about Vision Zero and serious about the potential for innovation, we should invest substantially – but not rely solely upon – tech solutions in keeping Austin on the cutting edge of saving lives.

Signals $10 million to implement upgrades to traffic signals, including signal priority for emergency vehicles and transit vehicles, leading pedestrian intervals, and other safety upgrades that may increase people throughput and safety at the same time.

Safe emergency vehicles fund $40 million

Mistakes have been made in fleet decisions by police, fire, and municipal fleet choices. We know today that safe streets require smaller fire apparatus, right sized police vehicles, municipal fleets optimized for safety, and intelligent transportation system investments such as signal priority for emergency vehicles.

Corridors $450 million

A large safe, multimodal bond would require substantial staffing and operating budgets to implement. The corridors office was completely created after passage of the 2016 bond and the initial $650 million in corridors bond funding. The entire corridors proposal is for $5 billion in improvements and the office was set up with this target in mind. If it is true that the corridors office has the capacity to carry a larger bond spending program than it currently has, we should load as much safety, transit, sidewalks, universal accessibility, and small mass, small speed vehicle infrastructure as possible into Corridors.

The full $5 billion corridors proposal includes many different priorities all of which were balanced in the initial 2016 funding, but with some worried that car access and long-trips were too highly prioritized. This proposal is to prioritize safety, multimodal access, and targeting those funds to the most transformative projects where the most people, jobs, and schools are, with appropriate equity measures.

$50 million Transit Speed and Reliability investments on corridors. Upgrading ROW to transit priority treatment for MetroRapid and local and intercity bus, targeted toward the most cost benefit using the Project connect analysis of choke points.

$200 million Speed Management - Upgrade major streets to greater capacity and safer speeds. Essentially additional Corridors spending, but focused on speed management, transit priority, crossings, and safety in general.

$100 million Intersection Modernizations - Safety and throughput to reduce travel time while also reducing operating, target, posted, and design speed

$100 million Complete Great Green Streets - Enough funding to do everything right on several major corridors, with at least one section of the Orange and Blue line from Project Connect, as well as several other priority areas identified in parts of town not touched by Orange and Blue Line. No car priority lane expansion allowed.

Equitable Transit-Oriented Development $120 million

$50 million (+$50 million bank + $50 million foundations) Austin ETOD Fund

Please see Farm&City report here for more information: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ ma4j5mauwkfv0ri/ETODForAustinReport_090819.pdf?dl=0

$50 million Funds for Community Land Trusts invested by local nonprofits

$10 million Shade Fund

$10 million ROW Placemaking Fund, to create parklets and other treatments to use underutilized public right of way, make streets safer by eliminating unnecessarily wide streets, curbs, unnecessarily slip lanes, and