Mapping the Future

TOD_BannerGrowth happens. You can’t change that. What we need to do is to manage how Central Texas grows, direct where that growth takes place and ensure that everyone benefits from our growing region.

The city of Austin is attempting to do just that with CodeNext, its rewrite of the city’s development code. It’s a massive undertaking and you’ve probably read much about it since the draft version was released in January and maps were put out last month showing how the proposed code would affect different parts of the city.

What city leaders are trying to do is figure out how Austin will grow. We all know that the people will come regardless; that’s not in doubt. The outstanding questions are: Where are they going to live? How are they going to get around? And how much will it cost all of us to continue to thrive in Austin?

Capital Metro is asking these questions, too. We’re working with regional partners, including the city of Austin, Travis County and CTRMA on Project Connect — a multiyear-long process that will help identify high-capacity transit projects designed to move people into, out of and around Central Austin.

A big part of both efforts will be fostering transit-oriented development (TOD). These are locations designed to encourage the use of — and take advantage of — the benefits of transit. They tend to be denser developments that are walkable and that feature residential, commercial and retail properties in close proximity.

Cap Metro has devised a new TOD Tool that will enable everyone to explore the region and think in new ways how Central Texas can look. It’s for transit and city planners or real estate developers, sure. But our hope is that all kinds of people will take a look through the tool and see the many possible futures that could be realized.

It’s maybe a bit intimidating at first. The tool, when printed out, is 200 11×17 pages and kind of dense. Luckily for those planners, developers and everyone else, we’ve got it online, too, where you can pick and choose what you want to look at. (You can also get a PDF version of the TOD Tool if you’re so inclined.)

The TOD Tool allows you to dive into any of our 9 MetroRail and dozens of MetroRapid stations and explore their neighborhoods. With the tool, you can look into demographics, topography, population density, access to transit, infrastructure and a whole lot more. It will let you discover more about your neighborhood, compare different parts of the region and think a little bit more about what kinds of development fit best along South Lamar as opposed to Tech Ridge, for instance.

It’s a crazy busy time to live in Austin and the surrounding area. A LOT is going on, and it’s best to be informed and educated about what’s being talked about and what it all means.

Capital Metro is trying to help everyone along in the process.

Austin Mobility: East Fifth St. Transit Oriented Development Underway

Austin Mobility featured an article in their newsletter yesterday, describing the ongoing development in the east 5th area — around our MetroRail Plaza Saltillo Station. Check out the Austin Mobility to learn more about local Transit Oriented Development at: or read on:

E. Fifth St. transit oriented development underway

Projects near Plaza Saltillo are moving forward.

The 256-unit Corazon mixed-use project has begun construction, and will feature 9,400 square feet of retail, along with 6,400 square feet of restaurant space.

That project, the first to break ground at the Plaza Saltillo MetroRail station and transit oriented development east of IH-35, is expected to be completed by 2014.

The project is a step towards realizing the vision for Transit Oriented Development on Fifth Street.

Transit Oriented Development, or TOD, is a rapidly growing trend to create compact and walkable communities with high quality design centered around transit, and offering mobility choices.

The TOD vision was created by working with community members to address issues such as connectivity, open space, and design within the realities of economics.

The TODs have a complimentary regulation and zoning framework to facilitate compact and connected development, which is a key part of the Imagine Austin plan, passed by a unanimous City Council this month.

In addition to the private development, Capital Metro is making progress on about 10 acres it hopes to develop under future private-public relationships.

An environmental assessment of the land is close to being completed.

An upcoming report, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency, will give planners an understanding of what remediation would need to occur to develop the land.

In addition, Capital Metro expects to begin design and engineering later this year to relocate rail along Fourth Street, which will free up land for mixed-use development.

That $5.4 million track project is funded 80 percent by federal funds, with a 20 percent match from Capital Metro.

Transportation, Development, Priorities

Kevin Buchanan wrote a thought-provoking article in the Fort Worthology blog yesterday. He includes a number of examples specific to Fort Worth, but you could substitute Austin development projects and roadways and it would be just as relevant.

Transportation, Development, Priorities
Written by Kevin Buchanan on March 24, 2011

“This transit project’s nothing but a handout to developers!”

Words similar to those are often heard in the United States when cities plan transit projects (it was certainly heard during the discussion around Fort Worth’s own streetcar project). The plan to spend ~$80 million, from the Near Southside and TRV TIFs combined with a federal grant, to build a streetcar linking the districts with Downtown, just as other TIFs spend their money on infrastructure, was seen by some as a handout to developers because one of the stated goals of the project was encouraging higher-density transit-and-pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development. “If these developers want it, they can pay for it!”

So, where are the calls for developers like Cassco or the homebuilders in Cleburne to pay for the nearly $1.5 billion Southwest Parkway, which is undeniably a benefit to projects of theirs like Edwards Ranch (there’s a Whole Foods planned there – but not until the Parkway is built)? Where are the calls for developers like Hillwood to foot the bill for the I-35 widening that will undoubtedly benefit developments like Alliance?

To call a transit project a “handout for developers” and a roadway “necessary public infrastructure” is an enormous double-standard. The reality is that every transportation project is also an economic development project – every transportation project has impacts for development.

Transportation and development/land use are deeply, deeply entwined.

This gets to one of the hearts of the sprawl vs. urbanism debate – the reality that sprawl is not the result of the free market simply choosing a totally car-dependent lifestyle. The invisible hand of government has led the way since WWII, resulting in the built environment we have, and are paying for (in more ways than one), now.

Without hugely subsidized roadways and freeways (the reality being that roads don’t even come close to paying for themselves, as even highway-crazed TxDOT has admitted), there wouldn’t be the sort of car-dependent development we have now. Those same roadways mean that when we do have moderately successful urban places, they’re little pockets surrounded by parking (as seen downtown and on 7th) or choked with excessive car trips. Or, put more simply:

You get the development you design your transportation systems for.

Read the full article by K. Buchanan.

More federal grant funds for Central Texas!

HUD Regional Administrator C. Donald Babers & Congressman Lloyd Doggett (photo from Envision Central Texas)
HUD Regional Administrator C. Donald Babers & Congressman Lloyd Doggett (photo from Envision Central Texas)
More great news! Just last week, Capital Metro was awarded $2 million in federal grant funds so that we could purchase some new buses. This afternoon, a group of local partners, which includes Capital Metro, was one of only 45 grantees across the country selected to receive $3.7 million in federal funds to develop new regional planning tools. The award was announced today at City Hall. In addition to Congressman Lloyd Doggett, the event was attended by HUD’s regional administrator C. Donald Babers. Continue reading “More federal grant funds for Central Texas!”

Plaza Saltillo’s lookin’ spiffy

After a long, hot day planting native trees, shrubs and grasses, Plaza Saltillo looks great!

Capital Metro–with the help of many volunteers, the landscape design dynamo of Ilse Frank, principal of Studio Balcones Landscape + Urbanism, the grant and materials support of Keep Austin Beautiful, the assistance of Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin/Saltillo Sister Cities Association, and the in-kind donations of several local businesses–has been revitalizing Plaza Saltillo over the past several months.

The most recent volunteer day was this past Saturday, June 19th.  Twenty hard working, dedicated volunteers planted about 300 plants in sweltering heat at Plaza Saltillo.   Many thanks to Thistle Cafe for providing lunch and Texas Coffee Traders who supplied coffee.  This work day completed all of the large planting beds and added shade trees, ornamental shade trees, grasses, and native plants. It looks fantastic! Check out the photo gallery on the Friends of Plaza Saltillo Facebook page.

Continue reading “Plaza Saltillo’s lookin’ spiffy”

TOD update

Capital Metro’s Manager of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Lucy Galbraith gave a really interesting presentation this month to the board’s Rail Committee meeting on June 14. It contained a good overview of what TOD is all about. It also included updates for development plans and progress at four stations: Leander, Crestview, MLK Jr., and Plaza Saltillo. Check out her presentation below.

Capital Metro applied for a Livability Grant from the Federal Transit Administration to support TOD at Leander Station, and we should learn any day now how our grant application fared. We asked for $10.9 million to replace the surface parking with a parking garage and to build the streets and infrastructure needed to support TOD.

Midtown Commons a finalist in ECT Awards

UPDATED: Midtown Commons won the Redevelopment category!

Midtown Commons at Crestview Station is one of eight finalists of the 2010 Envision Central Texas Community Stewardship Awards.

The winners will be announced today at ECT’s annual awards luncheon. I’ll be tweeting via @CapMetroRail from the event should Midtown Commons win all the marbles.

Midtown Commons is a mixed use, transit oriented development, with several styles/sizes of apartments, including live-work units, and then retail space on the ground floor. If you live at Midtown Commons, you can basically walk out your front door and board MetroBus or MetroRail. Continue reading “Midtown Commons a finalist in ECT Awards”