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Mobility plan will prioritize transit

Monday, March 6, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

The collaborative effort to craft a transit priority policy is being rolled into the larger Austin Strategic Mobility Plan.

Last Wednesday, Austin Transportation Department staff briefed the City Council Mobility Committee on their nearly year-old charge to put together a framework to guide decisions about transit-boosting treatments such as bus lanes and queue jump signals. The committee heard the presentation, but did not take any formal action.

A Council resolution in April called for city staff to work with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and relevant stakeholders to craft a strategy for putting together such a policy. After months of discussions that included the Alliance for Public Transportation, the Urban Transportation Commission and AURA, the team concluded that the mobility plan will provide the best incubator for the policy.

“The greatest consensus amongst all the groups was that this issue deserves a focused effort and a comprehensive approach to be successful,” ATD’s Annick Beaudet told the committee. She added, “This plan will take a portfolio approach to transit priority policy. That includes policies, programming and projects, as well as identifying the transit priority network.”

The plan is the city’s first wholesale transportation planning effort since 1995. The aim is to unite existing plans for specific modes – automobiles, bicycles and walking – into a single document. It is expected to be adopted as an amendment to the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan after staff members deliver the draft in 2018.

The recommendation to throw transit priority into the already sweeping process struck a nerve of concern for Council Member Ann Kitchen, the chair of the Mobility Committee. She warned that she does not want the decision to in effect deprioritize transit priority.

“I’m not expecting that the ASMP is just going to have a chapter that says what we already know without some level of detail about which routes we’re going to prioritize and what we’re going to do on those routes,” Kitchen said.

Beaudet assured her that the final outcome will include fresh and practical details. “We want the transit enhanced network to be identified,” she explained. “That is, where we’re identifying actual transit priority elements from the most aggressive, including exclusive lanes, to other treatments that might be appropriate, and we’ll be looking to define that in the context of all other mobility needs to best assure implementation success.”

As the overarching policy is being crafted, the transit priority working group – the joint effort of ATD and Capital Metro staffers – will continue to work on specific transit priority proposals on key corridors that will be overhauled through the massive transportation bond that voters approved in November.

Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar reminded the committee that his department will request new employees to help deal with the increased workload ahead. He said that he will specifically ask for two new positions to focus on transit speed and reliability. Spillar explained that Capital Metro has pledged to match that with two new employees of its own to collaborate full time with the city.

“It’s not all about the signals and the dedicated lanes,” Spillar said. “It’s also about, well, do we have too many stops along this corridor, do we have good sidewalks so that people are safe along this corridor, and are we using smart technologies to take boarding passes.”

Having dedicated staff members focused exclusively on transit priority and related issues aligns with the model established by Seattle, which established its own transit priority policy early last decade. The city is one of the few that has seen a marked increase in transit ridership in recent years.

After the meeting, Beaudet told the Austin Monitor that ATD and Capital Metro are now working together better than they have in her 20 years of experience.

“It’s like a planning renaissance of coordination and collaboration,” she said.

Photo by John Flynn

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