Car lanes will have to go

Light rail in Budapest. 

Speaking to members of the Real Estate Council of Austin recently, Mayor Steve Adler said that it was time for Austin to get serious about transit, including by investing in a high-capacity mass transit system, whether it is light rail or bus rapid transit (BRT). My Monitor colleague Jo Clifton reports:

Either way, he said, the system must have dedicated lanes that do not take space away from existing traffic lanes.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s possible. I mean, it’s technically possible. You could build a subway or elevated transit lines. But nobody is seriously discussing either of those options. What we’re seriously discussing is building high-capacity transit to run alongside cars on our largest existing corridors: Guada/Lamar/SoCo.

I sympathize with the mayor’s political predicament. He doesn’t want to scare people by talking about taking away space from cars. He doesn’t want to give the road warriors something to mobilize behind a year before Cap Metro even proposes its transit solution.

But I don’t think it’s practical to try to avoid the tough questions right now. That will only make it harder to deliver the bad news to the public when, surprise surprise, Cap Metro says that drivers will have to give up some space as part of Project Connect. The opposition will claim that the mayor pulled a bait-and-switch.

Adler’s entire mantra since the election been that now is the time to go bold in addressing Austin’s big issues. So let’s be bold! In 2018 people under 35 accounted for the largest voting bloc in Travis County and in 2020 they will make up an even larger share. They understand the value of dismantling some car privileges in order to build a better-functioning, more equitable and greener transportation system. Let’s speak frankly about the sacrifices necessary. The get-off-my-lawn crowd will never be ready. But I think most people are.

Bringing about meaningful mobility change will not just be about getting a bond passed. It requires a sustained effort to get the community to think differently about transportation. In doing so, transit advocates and transit-friendly politicians could learn a thing or two from conservatives. Just as conservatives have spent the last half-century undermining faith in public services and decrying government dependence, it’s up to a new generation of leaders to challenge our faith in the automobile and make us reconsider our dependence on cars.

UPDATE: I asked folks on Twitter what they thought of the mayor’s promise. Note the responses at the bottom from mayoral aide John-Michael Cortez, formerly of Cap Metro.

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