Independent Majority

How this November’s mobility bond can help create a car-independent majority in Austin.


Today, I asked Austin’s Bond Oversight Committee to support investment in car-independent mobility. Below are my prepared remarks and visualizations.

Good morning.

I’m here this morning to urge you to make a substantial investment in moving people, not cars.

I believe we can create a city where a majority of Austinites do not rely on a single-passenger car trip to get to work – where a majority of Austinites can live car-free or car-lite.

Presently, 73% of Austinites drive to work alone.

It doesn’t have to be this way.


As this table shows, if we match the present-day transit commute share of a sprawling Atlanta or Miami, couple it with the bike commute share of Minneapolis (which is not exactly known for fun, sunny weather) and make incremental gains in our pedestrian, car-pooling, and telecommuting share, then we can get to a car-independent majority. If we start now, we can get there by 2030.

So, please recommend that City Council hold a bond referendum that fully funds the $150 million Bike Master Plan and allocates $260 million for absent priority sidewalks identified in the Sidewalk Master Plan. As you know, over 4,000 Austinites, as well as leading grassroots organizations already support this plan.

It’s a “green” plan for sure, by which I mean it’s a great bang-for-the-buck.

At the median homeowner value, this will cost around $70 per year for 20 years, which is a great deal given that we are working towards giving half of the commuters in this city the opportunity to ditch a car, which the AAA estimates costs about $8,700 per year.


Investing in bike infrastructure features an attractive return-on-investment (ROI), as the above calculation by Austin Transportation Department Engineer Nathan Wilkes highlights.

Examples of bike mode shift for major cities

And it’s an approach with a proven track-record. The chart above reveals 3 American stories of bike-powered mode shift.

Closer to home, here’s the dramatic growth in Central Austin bike commuting during the period we built out our bike infrastructure and adopted land use reforms in places such as West Campus.

Central Austin bike mode shift 90-13.png

We can do this.

Addressing our massive sidewalk backlog is an equally promising investment. The updated sidewalk master plan prioritizes absent sidewalks that are within a quarter mile of schools, parks, and bus stops as part of finally addressing our billion-dollar backlog.

Master Bike Plan absent sidewalks by district.png

These sidewalks are in all ten districts. They support greater pedestrian and transit commutes by making it easier to catch the bus and walk around one’s neighborhood.

Please slow down.png

This image taken near Becker Elementary colorfully illustrates why good sidewalks are a cornerstone of creating a family-friendly city.

But what about roads?

As you know, in growing regions, roadway expansion doesn’t sustainably reduce travel times or congestion. Because of “induced demand”, roadway expansion simply accelerates sprawl until congested roadways return.


The Katy Freeway- with its costly expansion, and worsening travel times – is perhaps the most dramatic nearby example of this pattern.

Changes in Katy Freeway travel times

We can’t afford to waste precious bond capacity on a quixotic I-35 expansion. We will – hopefully – need that capacity in 2020, for a shot at a truly transformative light rail line that targets our most productive bus corridors.

And we will need it sooner than that to – hopefully – fund land trusts, fix leaky pipes, and refresh the City’s information technology.

Finally, as you craft your investment recommendation, encourage City Council to enact land use reforms that stop incentivizing disconnected, car-centric sprawl and instead catalyze “missing middle” residential development near transit and job centers.

Also, urge CapMetro to re-evaluate its service approach. Local service restoration, cancellation or freezes of the highest-subsidy services, prioritizing frequency instead of coverage, fare recalibration, and a Houston style route re-design are just some of the productivity-boosting strategies worthy of consideration.

Thank you for your time.

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