In fact, while it acknowledges that highway expansion projects are a tool to accommodate growth, this year’s Mobility Report makes a point of instead focusing on strategies that the Chamber says have “the potential to generate higher returns on investment.”
Those strategies include better land use planning, transportation demand management (TDM), and high-capacity and active transportation.
“The unavoidable fact is that, given growth rates, our current pattern of development is fiscally, socially, and environmentally unsustainable,” the report says. “Rather than hold on to an urban form designed exclusively to suit the needs of single-occupancy vehicles and single-family houses, we must embrace a smarter land use and mobility paradigm that supports accessibility, connectivity, and affordability.”
Here’s a closer look at the main recommendations in the report:
Mobility and land use planning are intimately linked, the report notes, and since 1946 Austin’s city limits have expanded more than seven-fold. While that growth in and of itself isn’t a problem, the low-density development that tends to fill those more outward reaches of Austin aren’t conducive to managing the city’s population boom, the report says. More people in less dense areas means more single occupancy vehicles on the roads.
Affordability is part of this problem, too. One reason people move out of the city’s denser core is because of housing prices. But once they move farther out, they have far fewer mobility options, and so most of them drive into Austin’s center. That adds up to quite a bit of money spent on transportation – for someone commuting in a single occupancy vehicle into Austin’s central business district from Kyle or Round Rock, that trip is adding up to about $3,000 annually.
The report calls for implementation of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (CAMPO) 2040 plan, which would support dense districts and multi-modal corridors throughout the region. The Chamber also calls on the City to finish CodeNEXT, the rewrite of Austin’s land development code.
Another key solution to mobility challenges that many cities worldwide are starting to use is TDM. At its most basic, TDM aims to reduce the number of commuters driving alone at peak rush hour times through a variety of mobility options, from using transit or bicycling to work, to flex hours and telework. It cannot be implemented by city governments alone; for TDM to work, employers need to buy in.
That’s something Austin is already keenly aware of. Mayor Steve Adler announced the Mobility Challenge in 2014, an initiative that asks Austin employers to reduce the number of employees commuting alone in vehicles by 20% by the year 2020. The Chamber is a supporter of that initiative, and the organization Movability Austin has been working with downtown businesses as a mobility consultant, helping employers design policies to reduce drive-alone rush hour commutes.
“As a region, our primary focus should be to optimize the performance of our existing transportation system and develop a smarter investment strategy that minimizes the need to travel in the first place,” the report says. “A demand management approach is a more cost-effective solution than supplying more capacity and creates additional economic, environmental, public health, and community benefits.”
Hand in hand with land development policy, investments in multimodal transportation alternatives will be another key factor in mobility improvements, the report says.
While they still make up a small share of Austin’s overall commuters, those seeking alternative travel – walking, taking transit, bicycling, or carpooling – represent a growing segment of commuters. Improving access to alternative mobility options is useful for those commuters, as well as would-be alternative travelers, the report says.
“Smart, judicious investments in multimodal transportation alternatives is also essential. Providing accessible, low-cost mobility options encourages fewer car trips, healthier citizens, and cycles more money within the local economy. When practical, individuals should take small steps like riding the bus in order to help drive incremental change and seed a culture of multimodalism.”