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Project Connect defends decision to bypass Lamar corridor for transit

Monday, December 2, 2013 by Jimmy Maas

Almost two weeks after Project Connect recommended the Highland and East Riverside areas to move forward to the next phase of transit expansion in Austin, it opened itself to feedback on the plan last Tuesday.

 

And what most people in the room, on the phone, online or watching TV wanted to know was, “Why not North Lamar?”

 

Kyle Keahey, Project Connect’s Urban Rail Lead, offered insight into the process and the reasoning behind the selection of the Highland and East Riverside sub-corridors. Instant feedback polls were then generated via text and web.

 

Much of the input from the public could be put into one of two camps, either the “Why not North Lamar?” or “Why not (insert my) area?” The decision not to include Lamar dominated much of the discussion.

 

When the instant polling asked what sub-corridor should move to the next phase, North Lamar was the runaway leader, followed by Mueller, then Highland and East Riverside.

 

When asked an open-ended question about Austin transit, the resulting word cloud graphic featured a very large “Lamar.” Word cloud graphics place words used in responses in random order, but rank their importance or frequency of use by altering a word’s color or increasing its size.

 

So, clearly, Lamar Boulevard was on a lot of minds.

 

“One of the things that we wanted to make sure we conveyed is that by no means is going into the North Lamar sub-corridor is not worthy of investment, said Keahey, “We do have Metro Rapid going in there. We wanted to make sure that took a comprehensive look at the entire city and where that investment had the most worth.”

 

The goal of the night was supposed be to just hear the public’s opinion. But there was an effort by Project Connect to answer the looming question.

 

From the chamber, resident Laura Presley pressed Keahey, “I’d like you to maybe explain the rationale of future projections and assumptions overweighing current reality, especially in North Austin. If you look at the density of the population of the city…the highest density is (in) North Austin.”

 

We’ve looked at each one of the sub-corridors with respect to existing population, existing ridership, existing employment,” Keahy responded, “And we look at each one of them for the projected ridership, projected population, projected employment.”

 

“If you just look at existing, you’re missing the boat for what’s going to be happening 10 years down the road,” continued Keahey, “What’s happening on East Riverside 10 years from now is not the East Riverside of today.”

 

Despite the concerns over skipping – for now – North Lamar, there was general support for the overall plan, which would eventually include it and other areas of the Central Corridor that didn’t make the cut this go around.

 

“This is a major step in the service in the corridors we’re recommending at this time,” said Keahey, “but by no means are we going to forget about the other sub-corridors.”

 

What was billed as the “first ever interactive community conversation” attracted roughly 50 constituents into City Council Chambers and an announced 7,000 callers over the two-and-a-half hour meeting. City staffer Larry Schooler facilitated the discussion, which also included email and social media questions.

 

Project Connect offered its recommendations for the next phase of transit development in the Central Corridor Nov. 15. The area is roughly bounded by RM 2222 on the north, MoPac Boulevard on the west, Oltorf Street on the south and Springdale Road on the east. Within that, the planning group subdivided it into smaller areas. It is two of these sub-corridors, Highland and East Riverside, which will likely move to the Phase Two.

 

The recommendation of Highland and East Riverside will be going to the Central Corridor Advisory Group. That group intends to also weigh comments and snap polls taken at the meeting will be considered in the feedback session.

 

The Highland sub-corridor is roughly bounded by Lamar Boulevard on the west, I-35 on the east, Highland Mall on the north and University of Texas campus on the south.

 

East Riverside’s sub-corridor roughly follows Riverside Drive from Lamar with Lady Bird Lake bounding it on the north while the south border cuts through parts of Travis Heights and then going to Oltorf east of I-35.

 

A map of the corridor and its sub-groups can be viewed at Projectconnect.com.

 

Organizers say there will be at least one more interactive feedback session like Tuesday’s as the process moves forward.

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