Monday, July 6, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Parks advocates push $750M bond proposal to add sidewalks, trails throughout city

Parks and transportation advocates hope to put a $750 million bond proposal on the November ballot that would fund many construction projects centered around “active transportation” found in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan.

The effort, led by the group Austin Outside, is focused on the call to improve sidewalks, bike lanes, urban trails and safety projects connected with the Vision Zero goal of ending motor vehicle deaths and crashes.

Austin Outside is gathering petition support online with the aim of getting more than 3,200 signatures by the middle of the month, before it begins final talks with City Council members. The goal is to have Council direct city staff to assemble a project list and create the ballot language Council would need to approve in August in time to make the November ballot.

Currently the group is targeting the July 30 Council meeting for discussion and action on the proposal. If approved, the bond proposal would likely join the multibillion-dollar Project Connect on the ballot, with Council also expected to take action on that long-discussed plan in the coming weeks.

The Strategic Mobility Plan, which was adopted last April, aims to shift travel in Austin away from single-occupancy vehicles with the goal that half of all trips taken by 2039 will be completed via other modes such as walking, biking and transit.

Ted Siff, who led the Austin Together PAC that pushed for passage of the city’s successful $925 million bond proposal in 2018 is the chair of Austin Outside’s bond advocacy committee. He said the group expects to have market research completed in the coming weeks to show Council members what kind of support the proposal has in the community

“November 2020 is a historic opportunity in terms of the electorate that will be going to the polls in Austin, which means not a lot of money will need to be expended on get-out-the-vote efforts for these bond propositions or other things on the ballot,” he said. “We feel confident that at least historically the Austin voters will support the measure we’re advocating for.”

Siff said a majority of the projects that would be funded by the proposal are located in East Austin, because of the dramatic lack of sidewalks and other parks and trails infrastructure in that part of the city.

Since the mobility plan has many of the needed projects already identified, Siff said the group expects work could be started quickly and completed in six or seven years.Working at that pace would inject more than $100 million per year into the local construction economy.

“For the bike plan, sidewalk plan and trail plan, Vision Zero and everything else to be funded, that would be more than $100 million per year for the next six years injected into our economy going to primarily local contractors,” he said. “We see it as a substantial economic stimulus to an economy that, while it’s certainly not as bad as some places, Austin has been substantially affected and we have over 10.5 percent unemployment at this point.”

Tom Visco, advocacy manager for the Austin Parks Foundation, said Austin Outside members aren’t worried about bond fatigue in voters who would decide the fate of an ambitious and expensive transit plan on the same ballot.

“It seems to me that the spirit of this year with regard to bonds on the ballot is to go big to accomplish the ASMP’s ambitious goal of a 50 percent mode shift by 2039,” he said. “If we look back one election cycle in 2018, Austinites demonstrated they don’t mind multiple high-impact bonds on the ballot. That shows Austinites are ready to tackle big issues and act on our city’s big goals when they’re given the opportunity. Having the Safe Mobility Bond and Project Connect on the ballot this November would continue that march.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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