10 Best 2018 Buried Stories in Texas Public Policy – 2/2


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 six through ten, and a first post includes one through five, in this list.

6. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Has Begun One of the Nation’s First Regional Vision Zero Action Plans

The Vision Zero movement has been dominated by two separate efforts: local activists working with local elected officials to adopt Vision Zero Action Plans for American cities, and statewide public servants and leaders developing zero death plans for State DOTs. Both are happening in Texas, and we are spending a lot of Vision Zero Texas energy at both levels.

However, the American transportation policy is dominated by regional level planning at the Metropolitan Planning Organizations. Serious efforts to end traffic deaths require regional coordination and integration of Vision Zero goals and strategies into regional transportation planning.

As the focal point of the 2017 World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, we worked with Vision Zero ATX, BikeAustin, WalkAustin, and Reconnect Austin to lead a campaign asking Austin’s MPO, Capital Area MPO (CAMPO), to adopt a regional Vision Zero Action Plan. Members of our team met with a majority of the elected officials on the region’s Transportation Policy Board (TPB).

In February 2018, the CAMPO TPB voted to approve a contract with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to begin a regional safety study, achieving much of what we were asking for. A stakeholder committee has been formed and extensive background research has been conducted, but the public process to develop a regional Vision Zero Action Plan will be coming in the next year. Farm&City will be serving on the stakeholder committee and will work to ensure meaningful public involvement.

7. The City of San Antonio Adds a Full Time Sidewalks Staff Person

In general, Texas has a huge sidewalk problem – missing and broken sidewalks are the norm, meaning children and people of all abilities lack the freedom that residents of accessible cities enjoy. Most large Texas cities are likely vulnerable for ADA lawsuits. Houston is just at the beginning of a meaningful citywide conversation to start addressing this problem.

Austin is a little bit ahead of the rest of Texas cities, a couple years into its updated, data-based Sidewalk Master Plan / ADA Transition Plan, with meaningful amounts of funding included for sidewalks in the last couple of bonds. However, a crucial element of Austin’s success is finding funding in the regular operating budget for City staff dedicated to the issue.

San Antonio joined Austin this year in taking the sidewalk problem seriously, by creating a full time position in the 2018 budget process. We were very excited to provide this letter of support.

8. Kris Banks moves from Sylvester Turner’s Houston City Hall to Adrian Garcia’s Harris County Precinct as Policy Director, following Amar Mohite on the city to county move.

The Houston region is heading for remarkable changes, with a Democratic majority at Harris County Commissioners Court for the first time in at least forty years. The City of Houston has long been one of the most progressive entities in Texas, a beacon of tolerance for people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations and a nationwide leader in better transit planning.

Following the move of Amar Mohite from the City of Houston Planning Department to Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ Precinct office, Kris Banks is moving from the City of Houston Mayor’s office to become Director of Policy for newly elected Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“The truth is, Harris County can do much more. Former sheriff and city council member Adrian Garcia ran for County Commissioner for Precinct 2 with the promise that Harris County will. Now elected and part of the new Democratic majority on Commissioners Court, Commissioner-elect Garcia will be taking the County’s role further than building roads and parks: Tackling environmental justice, improving housing stability and home ownership, approaching criminal justice in a brand new way.”

Kris Banks, Harris County Precinct Two Director of Policy

The third largest county in the nation also just elected a 27-year-old Hispanic woman as its County Judge. Lina Hidalgo is currently building her team, including hiring a Policy Director who will “oversee a team of 3-5 policy advisors who will focus on various issue-specific topics, such as Harvey recovery, climate resilience, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, gun safety, and early childhood education.”

Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millenials are taking their seats at the public policy arena at Texas’ largest county, changing the way we think about county and city lines, urban development, transportation, and justice.

9. Austin Voters Imposed a $160 Million Property Tax Bond for Transportation with Zero Promised to Car Capacity Expansion

In perhaps a first for a large Texas city, the voters of Austin passed a transportation bond package with elected officials and staff having given no promises to use any of the funds to expand roadway capacity. The future of Texas is going to be built around a safe, multimodal transportation system built around upgrading and improving the existing human habitat that we have already built. The sooner elected officials can have the moral fortitude to stop promising to “combat congestion” which is never achieved, the sooner we can get our fiscal house in order and build the Texas we deserve.

10. Texas State Representative Gene Wu Wants Smart Growth.

Back in 2009, then-Senator Rodney Ellis and now-Senator Carol Alvardo passed a bill through the House and unanimously through the Senate to create a statewide Smart Growth Task Force, to collaborate with TXDOT and other entities to develop a fiscally responsible growth strategy for Texas metropolitan regions. Then-Governor Rick Perry vetoed it.

We are paying the high costs of dumb growth policies, including traffic crashes, congestion, lack of affordability, and social and environmental costs. So it is a refreshing thing for State Representative Gene Wu to propose a need to rethink how our metropolitan region’s grow:

It’s time to seriously talk about how Texas cities develop and spread.

In the long run, this is not just bad for our economy and environment, but it’s bad for our quality of life.

Just building further and further out is no longer a responsible option.

– Texas State Rep. Gene Wu, 12/8/18

10 Great Buried Texas Public Policy Stories from 2018 – 1/2

DecideTexas, Growing Weirder, One Thousand Texans for Transit, VisionZeroTexas

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.

  1. Senators Huffines and Burton and their conspiracy theory anti-safety agenda were defeated at the ballot box.
  2. Maria Town harnessing the power of the City of Houston Mayor’s office to build an accessible Houston for all.
  3. Austin’s Vision Zero intersection repair program seeing 100% reduction in intervention-specific traffic deaths
  4. People are actually building a high speed train in Texas.
  5. TXDOT changed the name of the “Traffic Operations” division to the “Traffic Safety” division
  6. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization may have begun one of the nation’s first regional Vision Zero Action Plans
  7. City of San Antonio created a full time position focused on sidewalks
  8. 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.
  9. Austin voters imposed a $160 million property tax bond for transportation with zero promised to car capacity expansion
  10. 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.

San Marcos City Council directs staff to pursue Vision Zero strategy


As part of passage of an otherwise pretty good looking Transportation Master Plan, the San Marcos City Council has adopted a recommendation to develop a Vision Zero goal to end traffic deaths and sever injuries, develop a task force, and adopt a Vision Zero Action Plan by 2023.

Texas leads the nation in traffic deaths, with ten people dying on an average day. Texas rural areas suffer extreme high levels of crashes and deaths per capita, while our growing cities have their own dangers, including particularly dangerous streets for pedestrians compared to other US cities.

The US Department of Transportation has adopted a goal of ending traffic deaths across the nation in the next thirty years. The Federal Highway Administration has substantial resources available to local governments wanting to pursue a zero deaths vision. A growing number of cities across the nation are developing Vision Zero Action Plans and beginning to reduce traffic deaths, even with growing populations.

The Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan – adopted in 2017 – includes a recommendation that local governments or the state itself “adopt a Safe System (Vision Zero) approach to reduce the consequences of human error” specifically as one of the countermeasures to reduce deaths for older road users.

As of today, only two governments in Texas – the cities of Austin and San Antonio – have adopted Vision Zero Action Plans to end traffic deaths and severe injuries. However, we have also been involved in discussions with local officials in Houston, Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Dallas, and Laredo considering adopting Vision Zero strategies.

Of the ten largest cities in the nation, Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix are the only ones left without a Vision Zero Action Plan. Our goal for 2019 is that at least ten additional Texas governments begin or adopt Vision Zero Action Plans. Support Vision Zero Texas today to help us empower more local leaders to adopt meaningful Vision Zero strategies.