Yes, yes, I understand. The roads don’t belong to the drivers. The right of way belongs to all of us, whether we’re busing, biking, unicycling, scootering, walking, skipping or crawling in the street. But a lot of people don’t understand that. For at least 70 years in Austin drivers have been given VIP treatment on the roads, and that’s a status that many of them are reluctant to relinquish.
But it’s absolutely necessary if we ever plan to put in place serious public transit. That was the touchy question that Cap Metro officials/consultants tried to impress upon City Council members on Friday. From my article in the Monitor:
“Whether we’re talking about bus rapid transit, or light rail or autonomous rapid transit, the basic physical infrastructure needs are exactly the same,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, a national transportation consultant who oversaw a series of major transportation and land use changes as interim director of the Oakland Department of Transportation.
“We’re not forced to make a choice (on mode) now,” said Tumlin. “What matters now is: Are we ready to get the right of way?”
The challenge that regional leaders face is a political one, said Tumlin. They will have to take something away from some people to give to another group of people. What makes it even harder is that those benefiting from the future transit system are not aware of what they’re gaining until the full system is in place several years in the future, while the drivers losing access to car lanes are very much aware of what they’re losing.
I was glad to see Tumlin highlight Seattle. That’s really the only example of a city that has radically changed its approach to transportation in recent years, investing gobs of money in public transit and prioritizing transit access over vehicle access on roads, including by significantly reducing vehicle access on major streets downtown.
It’s true that Austin faces obstacles to a transportation transformation that Seattle doesn’t have to deal with. I don’t know much about Washington state government, but I’m confident that its chief policy priority isn’t to troll the libs. And while Seattle’s bad weather can be corrected for with an umbrella, there are only so many layers you can remove to cope with Central Texas heat on the walk to the bus stop.
The weather argument will definitely be used by both transit-haters and will appeal to many liberals who believe in transit in theory but don’t really want to do anything about it.