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Monday, October 15, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

City, Cap Metro ready to consider transit before, not after, construction

For most of its existence, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority has struggled to create a coherent service network in a city that has been largely developed without public transit in mind. This historical pattern now appears, after decades of political gridlock, to be reversing itself.

During a Mobility Committee meeting Thursday evening, Austin Transportation Department Assistant Director Annick Beaudet updated the committee on a June 2017 resolution directing Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk to work with Capital Metro and ATD to conduct a transit review for zoning change requests or site plan applications.

Prior to the resolution, ATD had reserved its transit review process for projects requiring a Transportation Impact Analysis, necessary only when a site will generate more than 2,000 vehicle trips per day. Now, however, a transit review will be standard practice for smaller developments and any zoning change requests.

“We have been doing a significant amount of transit review in the development process recently, but it isn’t memorialized or institutionalized, which was the point of the resolution,” said Beaudet. “We are looking at doing this in a way that streamlines with our existing processes and our existing staff, and most importantly … it’s going to facilitate transit improvement discussions to happen in a larger spectrum of development applications.”

As part of the review process, ATD will consult with Capital Metro before presenting information to City Council or developers. For the first time, Capital Metro will have a chance to be part of development and rezoning processes before final decisions are made.

Todd Hemingson, Capital Metro vice president of strategic planning and development, offered strong support of the resolution.

“What we really want to accomplish out of this is both the opportunity to comment on things within the code that could be enforceable, as development review does today, but also perhaps some advisory comments that may not be within the code, but we might say, “Have you considered doing x, y or z, that would make transit work better with your development. And then the third piece would be, are there things in the public realm adjacent to the development where we could work with the city to make transit again work better,” said Hemingson.

The objective of the resolution is to try to get the most possible transit benefits out of new developments so that the financial burden of connectivity is shared among as many bodies as possible. As we’ve seen with the discussion around the McKalla Place Major League Soccer stadium, developers and the city can work together to meet transit costs before construction is completed.

“I think there were a lot of lost opportunities in the past,” said Council Member Delia Garza. “As we try to encourage transit use, it’s important that transit be at the table when we’re having our land use conversations.”

There was, however, concern about making development more difficult than is necessary by adding the additional transit review process.

“I would be really concerned about something that further slows down an already very slow process and puts additional barriers to development when we need housing in the city and it’s such a big need,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

Flannigan’s concern was echoed by Garza and Council Member Ann Kitchen, but the committee agreed that having the transit review process in place and the feedback from Capital Metro represents a necessary step toward better connectivity.

Photo by John Flynn.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Mobility Committee: A City Council committee that reviews matters related to all modes of transportation.

CapMetro: Capital Metro provides bus and MetroRail (Red Line) service for the Austin region. It's governed by a seven-member board appointed by various governing entities, including City Council members. CapMetro is also governed by a President and CEO.

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