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CAMPO may be shifting gears

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 by

Agency considers goal of combining land and mobility planning

A presentation by planner Stevie Greathouse at last night’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Transportation Policy Board meeting could put CAMPO on the road to implementing many of Envision Central Texas’ major goals.

In other action, the Campo Board delayed a vote on Phase II of the Central Texas Toll Road plan until July and said it would consider a community-generated alternative to the US 290 West toll project.

A year ago, the Transportation Policy Board asked CAMPO staff to complete two tasks: bring back an outside assessment of the Phase II toll road plan, with the intention of re-evaluating the board’s position on the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s expanded toll plan; and, more obscurely, to take the input of the Envision Central Texas and Liveable City and try to mesh those groups’ concerns into forecasts.

Council Member Brewster McCracken was well on his way to completing the former task. Charles River Associates will be providing an update on the mobility alternative financing study to a steering committee in August. On the latter count, planners from CAMPO began to meet regularly with leaders of ECT and Liveable City.

Here, for the first time, CAMPO staff members were looking at a marriage of land planning and transportation planning, which has rarely been a high priority for transportation planning in Texas. For Greathouse, though, it’s not much different from her work as a planner in Portland, where land use planning was Greathouse’s forte. The only difference, Greathouse admits, is that the Portland community was far friendlier to the concept of encouraging and directing the region’s growth trends.

This is the chicken-and-the-egg theory that has dogged CAMPO staff. Does growth follow the roads because the region builds the roads, and must the region build the roads to keep up with the anticipated growth? And what if those growth patterns could be changed, to more closely reflect the goals of something like Envision Central Texas.

That’s what Greathouse has been doing, meeting with ECT and Liveable City to overlay the group’s goals of "population nodes" with anticipated growth patterns. It’s not identical to ECT’s Scenario "D," but it borrows heavily from it, Greathouse told the Transportation Policy Board at last night’s meeting.

"We we’re attempting to do is to use the ECT scenario – not completely verbatim, but significantly – and apply it to our model," Greathouse said. "We use it as a starting point to take this to the local level, to elected officials, and see if there are ways we can make this work… We have a map that we can use as a guide to build consensus."

As CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick pointed out, the two scenarios both anticipate a regional population of three million by 2030. They just place them on the map differently. A map of the CAMPO 2030 scenario presented last night showed a wide swath of population along many of the major transportation corridors. The ECT scenario shows clusters around the intersections of many of the major arterials in the region.

These changes are so profound that they actually allow construction to "catch up" with congestion. Under the original CAMPO 2030 plan, the region could not spend enough money pouring concrete to address the region’s high growth. The total spent on road construction would be around $23 billion over the next 25 years. In this scenario of "focused growth," that construction catches up with congestion.

In fact, ECT estimates the difference between the CAMPO 2030 plan and the ECT focused growth plan: A total of almost 400,000 vehicle hours of delay could be cut from the region as the result of only slight changes: Under the CAMPO plan, the average vehicle miles traveled would be 30.2, with an average speed of 35.4 miles per hour. Under the ECT plan, it would be 25.8 miles vehicle miles traveled, at a speed of 40.4mph.

To make this work – to turn it into a solid regional plan – will require CAMPO staff to meet with most of the major jurisdictions in the region, signing resolutions with local governments to implement plans and policies that steer growth to preferred areas. In many cases, it would involve striking down those policies – say, for instance, lot size requirements – in preferred areas of higher population density in the region.

Here, finally, was a plan that even the Sierra Club might actually like – a plan to cut down on concrete and direct development to high-density areas. If it worked, it will have a tremendous impact on how and where the region will develop and fulfill ECT’s most important goals for the region’s future. CAMPO’s goal is to draft plans through the summer and present its case to the public this fall. Then, memorandums of understanding with local governments would be signed early next year, with the intention of keeping the timeline for the CAMPO 2035 plan.

Street planners ready for bike/pedestrian test

Three configurations for all forms of traffic to be tested

Curb islands along Shoal Creek Boulevard are just a bad memory for many, but the city’s search for a safe method for cars and bicycles to co-exist continues with the Northwest Area Road Pilot Implementation Project.

The project was suggested by Council Member Brewster McCracken during debate over the curb islands he discovered that there was very little research available on "best practices" for designing roadways with both automobile and bike lanes. The project proposes to re-stripe several area roadways with characteristics similar to Shoal Creek Boulevard in various alignments, study traffic flow for 90 days, and choose the one that garners the best results.

Members of the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee heard an update Monday from the city Public Works Department on the project, including initial plans to use sections of Balcones Club Drive and Greystone Drive for the pilot projects. The two streets were initially chosen because they are 40-foot wide feeder streets with similar traffic volume to Shoal Creek Boulevard.

Three striping configurations are planned for the pilot program. The first option would include an eight-foot parking lane on one side, two 10-foot traffic lanes, a two-foot raised divider and a 10-foot, two way bike and pedestrian lane. The second would have a seven-foot parking lane, a five-foot bicycle lane, a 16-foot lane for two-way car traffic, a five-foot bike lane, and another seven-foot parking lane. The third option would have a six-foot pedestrian lane, flexible divider posts, a 28-foot travel lane that would include four lanes for cars and bicycles, flexible divider posts, and a six foot-pedestrian lane.

Staff laid out a timetable that included going to the neighborhoods involved in July and holding a vote to make certain that a majority of residents approved of running the tests. But McCracken said he would prefer a different plan.

"We have presented this idea to a number of neighborhoods in all parts of the city," he said. "Many of them have asked us for some kind of controls like this on their streets. I think we should offer up the plan to those who have shown interest, and do it for the first three neighborhoods that show interest."

McCracken said he doesn’t want the city to be seen as forcing the program on any one neighborhood.

If the program goes according to plan, the 90-day pilot programs would begin in September or October. The city would gather the data and in February, present it to the neighborhood, the LUT and the City Council for action on choosing the best method for controlling car and bike traffic.

McCracken and Council Member Lee Leffingwell voted to go forward with the program including the changes they had suggested. Council Member Betty Dunkerley was out of town.

Leffingwell seeks consensus on ordinances

Advisors will be drawn from many segments of community

Council Member Lee Leffingwell is in the ordinance crafting business for the long haul, working to ensure that representatives of the business community as well as the environmental community have input on two pieces of legislation—an Open Government Ordinance and an ordinance to offer more protections for land within the Barton Springs Zone. His office is contacting members of various organizations to join ad hoc advisory groups on each proposal.

Leffingwell said Monday the advisory group on solving problems associated with protection of the Edwards Aquifer would have its first meeting on Friday. He is inviting representatives from Liveable City, Save Barton Creek Association, Save Our Springs Alliance, the Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin, among others, to participate. Although both groups’ meetings will be open to the public, he said, since the members will simply be advising him—not the City Council as a whole—the meeting notices will not necessarily be posted.

Leffingwell said his group would be meeting parallel with the Environmental Board and Planning Commission. In addition, he said, "I know there’s an interest in discussing other issues, such as retrofitting opportunities, redevelopment, and possibly a Barton Springs mitigation plan. Anything we do is going to have to benefit water quality." He pointed out that some older neighborhoods, such as Barton Hills and Travis Country were developed with no water quality controls at all, pointing to the need for retrofitting in those areas.

Leffingwell said he would like to figure out a way to make redevelopment with SOS water quality controls more attractive. For example, he said it is impossible to redevelop in places such as the "Y" in Oak Hill. The property is currently 100 percent impervious cover, he said, with no water quality controls. If someone wanted to redo as little as 25 percent of the property, he would have to comply with the SOS ordinance. Because that would mean only 25 percent of the site could be impervious cover, no one wants to take on the task, he said.

"But there’s no question that if you go from a site that has zero water quality controls to one that has SOS water quality," that would be an improvement, he said.

Leffingwell said he would also like the group to talk about what other solutions, such as buying mitigation lands or paying into a fund, should be considered for redeveloping property in the Barton Springs zone.

According to Leffingwell, more than 31 percent of the Barton Springs Zone under the city’s control is already open space, including water quality lands and parks, with a small portion developed as golf courses. The city has authority over about 68,000 acres out of a total of 238,000 acres within the zone, he said. If the SOS-proposed ordinance known as Proposition 2 had won voter approval, the City Council would have been required to vote on grandfathering questions related to development of tracts of 50 acres or larger. However, he said his research indicates that that part of the amendment would have only applied to seven remaining tracts.

Andy Mormon, Leffingwell’s aide, suggested that the open government group should be called AGOG for Accessible Government Ordinance Group. Members of business, neighborhood and environmental groups, the city’s Ethics Commission and city staff will be asked for their input on that ordinance, Mormon said. Leffingwell said he intends for that group to begin meeting next week.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rose fires consultant . . . The San Marcos Daily Record has reported that State Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) has fired his longtime political consultant and friend Mark Littlefield. According to the San Marcos newspaper, the Texas Attorney General and the Hays County District Attorney are conducting a joint investigation "into possible voter fraud on the Austin Community College annexation petition." Littlefield was in charge of the petition drive. Rose is running for re-election this fall against Republican Jim Neuhaus. Littlefield helped Rose win his initial unexpected victory over incumbent Republican Rick Green in 2002. He also assisted Austin Council Member Brewster McCracken in his election in 2003 and his re-election last month . . . McCracken, Watson to hold press conference today . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watso n and Council Member Brewster McCracken will hold a press conference, billed as an "entertainment announcement" at 10:30am today at House Park High School Football Stadium. Representatives of the Texas Film Commission will join the politicos as they announce "a national network focus on Austin." Expect an announcement about the TV version of the film "Friday Night Lights," which was filmed in Austin. . . . Final day as a firefighter for Martinez . . . His Plaxo announcement has already gone out, giving his new phone number and email address. But today will be the last day that Austin Firefighters President Mike Martinez will ride on a fire truck. The Council Member-elect is scheduled to swear in Robert Garcia as the new president of the firefighters at 2:15pm. After that, firefighters will honor Martinez and at 5:30pm, he will have one last ride out with the crew from Fire Station 5 on Webberville Road. Martinez, Council Member-elect Sheryl Cole and incumbents Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken will be sworn at 6pm next Tuesday in a ceremony at the Palmer Events Center . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Environmental Board’s SOS Ordinance Subcommittee meets at 4pm in room 240 at One Texas Center . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive . . . Georgetown takes up electronics recycling . . . The City Council of Georgetown will take up a resolution tonight calling for producers to take back electronic waste. Georgetown residents contacted by Texas Campaign for the Environment over the last few weeks have written more than 170 letters to council members in the last month urging passage of a resolution. This vote will be a first for cities and towns in Texas, according to Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. Schneider said without producer take back recycling, Central Texas cities would spend an estimated $41 million should they should this burden between 2006 and 2015. Currently, much electronic waste is illegally dumped in the U.S., or shipped from rich countries to poor ones, processed unsafely in prisons. Some electronic waste is put in landfills or incinerators where toxins are not well contained. Less than 10 percent is safely recycled and disposed of in the U.S. The Council meets at 6pm in Georgetown City Hall . . . Smith unveils Solar Bill . . . Congressman Lamar Smith, a senior member of the House Science Committee, unveiled major solar energy legislation in Austin Monday. The "Solar Utilization Now Act of 2006," or "SUN Act," provides federal grants to help states conduct solar energy projects, and encourages state government and private industry to team up to apply for federal grants. If approved by Congress, the program's funding would start with $50 million in the first year (2007) and ramp up to $300 million in 2011. While Smith was making his announcement, about a dozen supporters of his Democratic opponent, John Courage, staged a quiet demonstration at City Hall. Courage’s supporters carried signs accusing Smith of election-year pandering . . . Water savings . . . The EPA on Monday unveiled plans for a new labeling standard for plumbing fixtures to designate those that are water-efficient. The WaterSense label will provide guidance to customers interested in buying fixtures that don’t waste water, which City Council Member Lee Leffingwell said could play an important role in the city’s effort to conserve water. "If we can save one percent a year for ten years, that’s basically a medium-sized water treatment plant," said Leffingwell, who has tried to find out what it would take to postpone building a replacement for the Green Water Treatment Plant.

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