In the record turnout midterm election, City of Austin voters passed a $160 million transportation bond that included no promises to add car-priority lane capacity or “combat congestion”.
Proposition G included $20 million explicitly for sidewalks and $15 million for the Vision Zero program – which aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the city to zero by 2025. The Vision Zero bond fonds are intended for intersection and pedestrian safety improvements.
The largest pot of money – $66.5 million – is for street reconstruction, which will improve existing streets for people driving or riding in cars, but this includes adding or improving sidewalks, bringing streets up to safe, modern design standards, ADA accessibility standards, and making flooding improvements.
This may be something unique or completely new for Texas. I am not aware of any materials or promises that were made that this sizable capital investment would include capacity expansion for single occupant vehicle trips. The local paper, the Austin American Statesman, endorsed with a common sense argument for the need for safety and sidewalks funding.1
Just two years prior, Mayor Steve Adler’s signature “Go Big” transportation bond included explicit promises to increase capacity, with ample public discussion of the idea that Texans would not vote for a transportation bond that didn’t include some amount of car capacity expansion.
Cities and counties across Texas are straining under the difficulties of decades of our road expansion focus and our devastating traffic violence. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has called for a paradigm shift in transportation planning to meet the needs of the largest city in Texas. This is going to require innovations and brave leadership in securing funding for safe, multimodal transportation – as opposed to new capacity.
Austin’s results indicate local Texas leaders can be confident that the voters may be ready for resounding votes of support for safe, multimodal programs, even when it could mean raising property taxes.