How’s that $720 million mobility bond working?

My piece on the 2016 mobility bond is in the Chronicle today. If you read it online, make sure to click on the second part of the story at the bottom of the first page, where I explain what’s going to happen on all of the corridors.

There were a couple key points that I wanted to get across. First, driving is still going to suck royally.

When it comes to delay time for drivers, the bond projects will make things better than they would have become otherwise. And yet, that doesn’t mean the driving experience will necessarily improve: All indications are that the Austin area population will continue to grow rapidly, meaning more people and more cars clogging up city roads. Kara Kockelman, a transportation engineering professor at UT, notes that a 1% increase of drivers on the road can increase delay time by 8%. “I think 2035 travel times will be higher regardless of these improvements, but probably less high, and hopefully [we will] save a lot of delay on those improved corridors.”

Second, $720 might sound like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of what we need.

And yet, the bond’s improvements for bikers, pedestrians, and transit represent a small step toward an end goal. Corridor studies that inspired the $482 million program identified $1.4 billion in needs. Take sidewalks: The local mobility program ear-marks $37.5 million for them, and a sub-stantial portion of the $27.5 million “Safe Routes to School” program will include sidewalk construction, leading to an estimated 54 miles of new sidewalks. Yet even all that represents a fraction of the $1.64 billion 2016’s Sidewalk Master Plan estimated it would cost to fill in the city’s more than 2,500 miles of “missing sidewalks.”

And while Austin cyclists will appreciate the $20 million earmarked in the bond for bike infrastructure, along with the $26 million to build new urban trails, that’s still a far cry from the $151 million the city’s Bicycle Master Plan says would be needed to implement a similar path and trail plan to the one in Portland, Ore., which claims the highest bike use in the country.

Some days I fantasize about what we could do if we took the $101 million earmarked for “regional mobility” (big roads) and dedicated it entirely to urban trails.

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