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Transportation firms make their case for SMP contract

Monday, October 26, 2009 by John Davidson

Two of the nation’s top transportation consulting firms are vying for the city’s $1.5 million Strategic Mobility Plan contract, and each made their case to City Council on Thursday.

 

The firms, Kimley-Horn and Fehr & Peers, are the finalists in the city’s search for a consultant to head its Strategic Mobility Plan (SMP), a two-phase process that will seek to revamp major transportation corridors throughout the city and improve bike and pedestrian routes and could involve a bond election in November 2010 to support an urban rail system and some smaller road projects.

 

The city’s SMP is structured in two phases. The first phase will examine current problems in the city’s transportation system and consult with the public about how to best address them in the short term. The second phase is more long-term and will likely consist of the redesign of one or more transportation corridors in the city.

 

The idea is to create a “multi-modal system” — a term both teams used Thursday to describe a system in which modes of transportation other than the private automobile are convenient and accessible to city residents.

 

But creating a multi-modal system that works will require careful planning, according to Matthew Henry, President and CEO of Fehr & Peers.

 

“Historically, there’s been a lot of investment in the auto mode, and other modes are playing catch-up,” he said. “The question is, as we play catch-up, how do we mesh it together to make sense rather than just sticking in little pieces here and there?”

 

Mike Clark-Madison of Tate Austin, a member of the Kimley-Horn team, echoed that sentiment, saying a crucial aspect of transportation planning is that it takes place in a context of a broader vision. For example, if the city’s vision is for a multi-modal transportation system, it should be reflected in the street standards for a new subdivision.

 

“We could be talking about constructing streets, rebuilding corridors, fixing bottlenecks in places where signals or intersections are failing, putting in missing pieces that connect facilities, like finishing a bike trail,” he said. “But mostly we’re talking about how to make sure that when we decide to do all of those things we’re not just doing them at random but that they are all put together in an overall vision that takes what the city says it wants to do with transportation and makes it real.”

 

As with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the SMP will involve a healthy dose of public input, and both firms took care in their presentations to City Council to emphasize that engaging the public would be a centerpiece of their approach. Henry said the SMP is a way to organize the various pieces of the city’s transportation puzzle, but to do that properly it’s important to consult with residents who travel differently.

 

“You have different things that drive different types of modes,” Henry said. “Certain pedestrian or bicycle modes, for example, can’t be measured by the same variables as auto travel. And that’s where the community input is so crucial.”

 

The city will select one of the two firms by Nov. 5 and plans to have a contract negotiated with the winning firm by Dec. 7, according to city staff. The public comment period closes on Oct. 29.

 

To get more information about the presentations or to comment, visit:

http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/transportation/ .

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