Texas is a big state with big issues happening across the state. Here is our list of significant public policy stories that happened across the state that might not have received as much attention as they may have deserved.
This post contains explanations of one through five, and a second post includes six through ten.
- Senators Huffines and Burton and their conspiracy theory anti-safety agenda were defeated at the ballot box.
- Maria Town harnessing the power of the City of Houston Mayor’s office to build an accessible Houston for all.
- Austin’s Vision Zero intersection repair program seeing 100% reduction in intervention-specific traffic deaths
- People are actually building a high speed train in Texas.
- TXDOT changed the name of the “Traffic Operations” division to the “Traffic Safety” division
- The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization may have begun one of the nation’s first regional Vision Zero Action Plans
- City of San Antonio created a full time position focused on sidewalks
- Kris Banks moves from Sylvester Turner’s Houston City Hall to Adrian Garcia’s Harris County Precinct as Policy Director, following the path of Amar Mohite’s city to county move.
- Austin voters imposed a $160 million property tax bond for transportation with zero promised to car capacity expansion
- Texas State Representative Gene Wu wants smart growth.
1. Senators Huffines and Burton and their conspiracy theory anti-traffic safety agenda were defeated at the ballot box.
A loose coalition of safe streets activists and people whose loved ones have been killed or seriously injured in traffic violence tried to get the legislature to allow cities to deploy Safe Neighborhood Streets in 2017, with a bill that passed the Senate Transportation Committee but was never allowed a vote on the Senate floor.
My understanding is that they expressed opposition to the bill using rhetoric one might find in the conspiracy theories pushed by Alex Jones. They propped up a point of view that things like Vision Zero are a globalist trick to “take away your right to drive.”
Senator Huffines had also been a champion of the misguided effort to outlaw life-saving red light cameras. These two legislators served as a deadly wall, blocking reasonable transportation safety measures to save Texan lives.
Senators Huffines and Burton both lost and will not bring this deadly point of view back to the Texas Senate in 2019. On an average day, ten people die using the Texas transportation system. Hopefully the legislature will be able to act this session to reduce the danger on Texas streets and roads.
2. Maria Town harnessing the power of the City of Houston Mayor’s office to build an accessible Houston for all.
By many accounts, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has hired well. One of those stories that hasn’t been discussed too much is Maria Town, the Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. Ms. Town came to the mayor’s office from the White House Office of Public Engagement, and seems to have brought a new optimistic energy to Houston’s intense need for progress in providing equal access to the city for people of all abilities.
Houston’s sidewalk network is extremely problematic and lacking, denying basic rights to many people with disabilities. “Houston’s sidewalks are notoriously dilapidated — where they exist at all” according to the Editorial Board of the Houston Chronicle.
Although Houston’s immoral sidewalks policy is far from fixed, Ms. Town seems to be carving out the appropriate policy window to allow for the significant large scale solution that will be necessary.
“When I came to Houston, I was shocked that the city requires that the abutting property owner fix the sidewalks, because what it creates is this huge patchwork of sidewalks across our enormous city,” said Maria Town, the director of the Mayor’s Office For People With Disabilities. “Broken sidewalks create issues for everyone, whether they have a disability or not. Runners can trip and fall and receive major injuries.”– From Houston Chronicle “Houston struggles to expand sidewalk efforts“, 12/19/18
3. Austin’s Vision Zero intersection repair program seeing 100% reduction in intervention-specific traffic deaths
Austin voters have now twice dedicated bond funds to fix the most dangerous intersections in the city, with $15 million included for the Vision Zero program in 2016 dedicated to intersections and another $11 million added this past November. A handful of high-danger intersections have already been examined and retrofitted to reduce crashes.
The program has issued some remarkable preliminary results with some intersections seeing a 65% reduction in total crashes. Staff are not willing to publish the impact on fatalities until they have about three years of data. Yet, early analysis shows that they may be achieving a 100% reduction in the types of fatal crashes they were targeting at some of the intersections.
One example is the intersection of I-35 freeway and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, where a person was killed every year on average trying to walk across the slip lanes. The intervention was simply to raise the crosswalk, making the exact location where a driver needed to avoid hitting a pedestrian into a speed bump, as shown below.
The Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan includes recommendations for local governments to pursue these kinds of data-backed, targeted interventions to retrofit dangerous intersections. However, the SHSP is essentially an unfunded mandate for local jurisdictions because of the Texas legislature’s lack of focus on funding safety improvements.
4. People are actually going to build high speed rail in Texas.
Having made it through three sessions of the Texas legislature and various attempts to kill the project, a private company, Texas Central, is moving forward with building what could be the nation’s first high speed rail line. Groundbreaking is expected to occur in 2019 on a line that will take passengers from the edge of downtown Dallas to Houston’s Uptown, according to the Dallas Business Journal.
While much attention has been paid to the horserace coverage of the attempts to stop it, this story holds dramatic potential to transform Texas with serious policy issues to address. As the state and local governments have barely addressed equitable transit-oriented development policies, we may soon have the first three station areas in America to witness the profound shift high-speed-rail-oriented development may bring.
5. TXDOT changed the name of the “Traffic Operations” division to the “Traffic Safety” division
Back in September, TXDOT quietly changed the agency’s organizational chart, following a meeting with Corpus Christi area transportation safety activist Lance Hamm. We have been working with people across the state, including Lance, to help TXDOT move toward a higher priority on safety.
While doing some background research in the summer of 2018 on the role of safety at state DOTs, our summer intern Laura Thomas grabbed the TXDOT org chart below:
In September, this new org chart was posted. Under “Engineering and Safety Operations,” the final division “Traffic Operations” has been changed to “Traffic Safety.” We have recently met with TXDOT leadership to discuss safety efforts, and can say that this does not represent a trivial change, but is part of a significant effort to upgrade how the state DOT addresses safety.
The rest of this list will be published over the weekend as part 2. While we work on that, you have only a couple more days to donate to Farm&City, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working on these kinds of Texas public policy issues.
Serious meaningful changes are possible in Texas public policy. Farm&City can work with you to get things done. Please help us meet our goal to start 2019 strong by donating today.