The Grove at Shoal Creek has made headlines over the last year for a number of reasons – it’s a large-scale dense development in a traditionally single-family home area, neighborhood groups have done battle over its potential to impact traffic and affordable housing stock, and it has impacted at least one City Council race. Less sexy, but just as historic for the city, is the way the developers are hoping to shape transportation in and around The Grove.
At the request of The City of Austin’s Zoning and Platting Commission and The Grove’s developer, ARG Bull Creek, Austin engineering firm BIG RED DOG created a transportation demand management (TDM) plan for the planned development. TDM plans are gaining popularity in cities all over the world as a low-cost and easy-to-implement strategy for reducing traffic congestion. But the TDM for The Grove marks the first time a private development has adopted the traffic-mitigating strategy.
TDM is often referred to as the flip side of infrastructure. Its focus isn’t on building more roads, sidewalks, or transit, but instead on using existing infrastructure in a strategic way that helps decrease auto trips. That can mean anything from incentivizing teleworking, flex hours, and carpooling to making it easier to access and use transit, biking, and walking as transportation modes. Austin has several programs dedicated to reducing vehicle trips through TDM. The city perhaps saw the biggest impact TDM can have last March, when President Obama visited Austin during SXSW. Anticipating horrible traffic congestion, the City and employers urged commuters to use transit, carpool, or simply work from home. The result was highways that were surprisingly clear of traffic – all because fewer than 20 percent of Austin commuters shifted their travel patterns.
In the case of The Grove, the goal of the TDM plan is to keep vehicle congestion both within the development and on the adjacent roadways at levels lower than what was anticipated in the traffic analysis.
“Given the opportunity provided at the site (located just a few miles from Downtown and UT), the development team was seeking to provide the best mobility experience they could, as well as set a high bar with respect to the quality of development,” says Dan Hennessey, P.E., Public Infrastructure Market Director, Director of Transportation/Traffic Services with BIG RED DOG.
To accomplish those goals, the TDM plan for The Grove makes use of some of the design elements already included in the development’s plan. Hennessey says that because ARG Bull Creek was interested in a walkable, compact development, features like building setbacks, wide shaded sidewalks, signalized crossings, plans for transit stops within the site, and bicycle-friendly elements are already included in the design.
“Additionally, we have included providing on-site shower and locker facilities to encourage bicycling, unbundling the cost of parking from residential or commercial leases, and ensuring carpool/vanpool/carshare spaces would be available throughout the site,” Hennessey says. “More strategies will also be developed over the course of the project and will be available to the developer to help meet their vehicle reduction goals.”
In addition to the elements that are part of The Grove’s design, operational measures that can be written into leases are also part of the TDM plan. Those could include incentives to reduce drive-alone vehicle trips during rush hour.
As The Grove is built out, the property owner will collect data about the number of vehicles entering and exiting the site throughout the day, including peak periods, and will also collect information on the commuting pattern of residents, employees, and visitors.
“As the project continues to build out, the strategies will be adjusted to ensure that the vehicle reduction goals are met,” Hennessey says.
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