Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Austin I-35

Last night I was downtown in Austin to take part in a panel and discussion about the I-35 cut and cap proposal with Sinclair Black the Austin architect who proposed the idea, Peter Park former planning director in Milwaukee that removed a highway and Denver, and Alan Holt who directs the city of Austin's urban design division (which was pretty cool seeing a city with proactive planning and design dept. What?! Most do?!). You can find my presentation here:
A couple of quick thoughts: - So many people were there, it was standing room only. It also overwhelmed the air conditioning and wouldn't you know it, I get into my office today and our air conditioning is broken. Good thing we get no direct sunlight in our storefront office space.

 - The venue was a german biergarten in an area dominated by the state of Texas. In fact, the streets and thus the on-street parking was also controlled by the state. It was coin-fed meters. The rest of the city has smart meters. Locals joked that they forgot how to use them. I had to run to an ATM, then run to make change, then run back to my car all while hoping the area's meter maids were less diligent than Dallas's which jump out of the trees the moment your meter is a minute expired. Then the running joke became that Austin was in the 21st century and the state was still in the 1950's. Which works, when you think about it.

 - Whenever you're visiting other cities in Texas, the best way to ingratiate yourself in the audience is to bash where you come from. Pro tip. However, in small group discussions afterwards I mentioned that I had a comment in my presentation that I couldn't work in, but it was essentially, "the absolute worst insult I can think of saying to and about Austin, is that you're more like Dallas than you think."

 - One last thing and this was something I also wanted to bring up in the big group discussion, but only ended up tossing out this stick of dynamite in small groups. Rather than cutting and capping 35, why not look outside the city, and look to potential other corridors to, in effect, become 35? I see 183 as a loop road east of Austin with plenty of right-of-way for expansion, and only the odd nod to something that is not limited access. Since there actually is some housing in the vicinity, there might be some political pushback to that idea for, as Peter Park asked, "who wants a highway through their neighborhood?" The other option is 130, the toll road well to the east of Austin. From what I understand 130 has been downgraded in their credit rating and could potentially default. As toll roads financed on expected revenue from pigovian fees are wont to do, it's underperforming. They NEED drivers. They NEED it to be more difficult to drive through Austin. Why not shift 35 around the city with 130 serving as express lanes since 35's existing corridor can handle adding toll lanes? How ironic, highway builders as a potential ally for highway tear-outs. Who'da thunk it?