Asking Austin Not to Rush (Hour): a Traffic-Cutting Experiment

May 3, 2016 by Kate Harrington

When President Obama’s visit to Austin in March coincided with the beginning of the SXSW music festival, most commuters feared the worst in terms of total gridlock. Instead, Austin’s surface roads and even notoriously congested highways saw free-flowing traffic – which, transportation experts are quick to point out, was probably due to many public and private employers encouraging employees to work from home or stagger work hours on that day.

Now the City wants to see if we can recreate the magic of uncongested streets. Mayor Steve Adler announced that May 11 will be “Austin Don’t Rush Day.” Adler is calling on businesses to let their employees work from home or stagger work hours, and for employees to consider using mobility options like carpooling or transit to get to work.

“People asked ‘if we could do this for the President, can we do it for ourselves?'” Adler said in a statement. “Yes, but this time we’re simply asking people to avoid rush hour. Take a train, a bus, or a bike. Talk to your boss about changing your hours to avoid rush hour. Maybe work from home and come in at noon. You have a lot of options, and this time we have a lot of support. The message last time was to work from home. This time it’s even easier: Austin, don’t rush.”

Austin advertising firm GSD&M is volunteering its services to help promote Don’t Rush day.

Using staggered work hours, telework, and mobility options is what transportation planners call “transportation demand management (TDM).” The idea, as Adler said during a press conference, is that if just 20% of the workforce can shift their driving so that they’re doing anything but driving alone at peak hours, a city can eliminate traffic jams.

Many transportation experts see TDM as one of the only immediate and cost effective tools to alleviate Austin’s crippling congestion. The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 Mobility Report, which used research from the Texas Transportation Institute, found that building more infrastructure alone would do nothing to make a dent in the traffic congestion that’s coming with the growth the Austin area is experiencing. But when improvements to road and transit infrastructure are coupled with TDM, the report found, Central Texas’s traffic congestion can be reduced.

To help out with the effort, Capital Metro has announced that service on its buses and train will be free on May 11.

Click here to learn more about Don’t Rush Day.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.