Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Austin's Trends

There is a lot to like but a lot to reframe in a recent article in the Austin Chronicle. CAMPO, the local MPO is looking to go a different direction with the regional transportation planning they've been doing and has stumbled upon visioning as an acceptable way to move forward. Unfortunately survey respondents are split between what is basically the Envision Central Texas model and the sprawl as usual. But why are they split? Is it because they weren't told the true costs or that they don't mind wasting their money? A telling part of why folks might not have chosen the more sustainable method is the following:
The trends concept is basically a recipe for continued sprawl: It leaves regional development patterns up to current policies and market trends. It assumes that all $2.4 billion worth of projects in the current investment pipeline get built.
Market trends? Since when was sprawl market based? I always assumed it was fueled by a big fat subsidy to home owners through unequal housing subsidies and road subsidies. I must be wrong since the frame is that it's actually the market pushing that direction. The biggest challenge for advocates as shown by this paragraph is reframing the debate. We need to jump on it and own it. We should be the fiscally responsible ones, the ones who care about whether locals get to keep their hard earned money. It's also because shifting demographic and market trends are swinging away from what they used to be.

I do like the idea of allocating 50% of monies to the centers in the region which would go along way towards improving transit ridership numbers and hopefully focusing growth on employment as well as housing. Hopefully they actually build transit into the centers instead of around them. I'd probably focus on that first along with better pedestrian and bike amenities.

But there are many other considerations to deal with. First is affordability. How much does that housing and transportation cost eat up a family budget. How much money is going to be left in the typical Austinite's pocket by this plan? What are the citizens going to get out of it? That determines how the local economy grows. This should be part of the decision making matrix. Too often these decisions are made in silos. Integrate them with housing plans, water plans, employment plans, state plans, school district bonds and every other plan under the sun. How are you going to house your workers affordably? Is it more affordable housing plans or is it allowing greater supply creation? How are you going to provide energy on a smart grid to all these people? How does that work together with transportation? Trolley bus wires? We could go on...

Another is how much money can be saved in terms of infrastructure if you go with the centers plan. If you spend less on sprawl, how much are you going to have in your pocket for other worthy investments? Transform did this in the Bay Area with stunning results. Hopefully we can focus on what people care about, saving money. In the end as Professor Davies always said, if you want to get people to pay attention, "hit them in the pocketbook".


Cavan said...

Correct again, as usual.

Matt Fisher said...

And then they should get light rail built like in the rejected 2000 plan.

arcady said...

One way to look at it in terms of economics is that government investment can provide certain benefits and impose certain costs on the public. The road-based transportation system has many benefits, but it also imposes certain costs, namely the expense of owning and operating a motor vehicle. It's almost like an implicit tax, because even though it doesn't involve the IRS taking money from your paycheck, it's still money that you have to spend in order to be a member of the society.

For the libertarian types, any tax is a drain on everyone's productivity, and for the liberals, one should point out that it's a very regressive sort of tax, hitting the poor especially hard, either by forcing them to buy cars they can barely afford, or for those who can't afford even that, by wasting the time they could be spending on bettering themselves, which they instead have to spend waiting for and riding buses to get to work. A system where the government favors transit may end up with the government giving more explicit subsidy to transportation, but at the same time, be cheaper for the public through the reduction of this implicit tax.