Austin’s growth is a tough one. We all know its double-edged nature.
New people and new growth are great. They make for lots of fun and cool things to do and see. But they also make it super expensive to live here and hard to get around. Dealing with that growth requires deliberate thinking and planning. The temptation is just to build quickly and to do so thinking of today’s problems while leaving tomorrow’s for later.
Capital Metro’s Transit Design Guide brings together standards and best practices for how to build a place designed for the people who live here now and for the ones to come. So often, our answer has been simply to build more and build more and build more.
More houses further out.
More and bigger roads to get there.
More offices and shopping centers and apartment complexes wherever we can fit them.
The Transit Design Guide helps guide our thinking, to make sure that the region grows thoughtfully and efficiently. Topics addressed include:
Transit-Supportive Street Design
Bus Stop Design
Transit Lane Configuration
Rail Station Design
Park & Ride Design
Transit-Oriented Development & Place-making
It’s about integrating people and place in planning. It’s about thinking — as we’ve been saying all along with Project Connect — of how to get people from here to there rather than how to fit more cars on that road. This sort of inclusive design builds a region that people want to live in, can afford to live in and that is safer to live in. (Cars are dangerous, y’all.)
As we continue to expand our transit system and look for ways to accommodate this growth, things like the Transit Design Guide and our TOD Tool provide a framework for facilitating consistent high-quality transit service and supportive land use. The guide is available with our Service Guidelines.
This was a big week for Capital Metro, a week decades in the making. With our partners Endeavor Real Estate and Columbus Realty alongside members of the community, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Plaza Saltillo District on Wednesday.
Braving the warm, muggy weather, a couple hundred people joined us at Plaza Saltillo, right next to our MetroRail station and directly adjacent to a 10-acre tract of land that’s laid empty since the mid-1990s.
It won’t be empty for much longer, though. When construction is through, the development will feature 800 residential apartment units (almost 20 percent of which will be reserved as affordable housing), more than 110,000 square feet of retail space, 140,000 square feet of office space, an acre-and-a-half of open space with public art and access to a range of transportation options. In addition to our own MetroRail and MetroBus services, the Plaza Saltillo District will be located right along an extended Lance Armstrong Bikeway and two historical walking paths (the Tejano Music Legends Trail and the Tejano Healthy Walking Trail); it will also have access to Austin B-cycle stations and Car2Go vehicles.
Rather than your typical event with a big pile of imported dirt and shiny new shovels, the Plaza Saltillo groundbreaking featured a flag-planting ceremony. Representatives of Capital Metro, the city of Austin, Endeavor Real Estate and the neighboring community staked flags symbolizing the three organizing partners: Cap Metro, Endeavor and the city. We included the Texas state flag too.
Cap Metro President/CEO Linda Watson spoke enthusiastically about the trajectory of the project, and the agency’s efforts to guide the development in a way that served the needs of Capital Metro, as well as the neighborhood and the entire region.
Pio Renteria is a member of both our board of directors and the Austin City Council, representing East Austin. He and East Side resident Johnny Limon talked with passion about the history and the people of East Austin. In his dual roles, Renteria was instrumental in getting the project through the final steps of the approval process. Limon, too, worked for years leading a community group dedicated to finding a solution for the abandoned railyard that will be home to the development.
In addition to the flags and the great speeches, the crowd was able to enjoy tamales and agua frescas from the Tamale House (located just down the street from the station), conjunto music by Los Pinkys and paletas from Mom and Pops Frozen Pops.
Remediation work on the former brownfield site has already started and construction of the underground parking structure will begin shortly. In all, the project is expected to take about 30 months.
Wednesday was a fun way to acknowledge the road we’ve taken so far and to look to the days ahead when the development be finished. Once done, the resulting Plaza Saltillo District will be a great addition to Austin and Central Texas.
Growth 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.
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: http://ow.ly/ealZv or read on:
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.
Last Friday, 30 families moved into the beautiful new M Station affordable apartments adjacent to the MLK Station. The M Station complex is the newest addition to the Foundation Communities‘ collection of affordable housing properties. The M Station offers onsite, state of the art childcare and learning center and 150 apartments, including 15 for extremely low-income or homeless families. With direct access to bus routes and MetroRail, as well as many other sustainable features, the M Station will be a great place to live.
Capital Metro welcomes Jennifer and all of our new neighbors at the M Station!
Last week, the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution released an analysis of how well transit systems in the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas connect workers to jobs. The key finding of the study is that nationally, while a high percentage of people live near transit (69 percent), a much smaller percentage of jobs are reachable via transit (only 30 percent). What does that say about the success or failure of public transportation? What does it say about land use planning and regionalism?
After chatting with Executive VP/Chief Development Officer Doug Allen and Planning VP Todd Hemingson about the findings of the study, two takeaways for Central Texas are:
1. We have to work together and plan together as a region to meet transportation needs. (Transit needs to grow where transit can go.)
2. We need to raise the collective social awareness that smart land use planning is beneficial. (Businesses need to locate where transit is.)
Here at home, as noted in the Austin American-Statesman, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area ranked 50th out of the 100 metropolitan areas in the study.
Here are some findings for the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA:
47 percent of people live near a transit stop (study average: 69 percent)
Considering that Round Rock and San Marcos don’t have a city transit system (and aren’t within the Capital Metro service area), you can see why the percentage is low. (When you look at just the Capital Metro service area, about 71 percent of people are within 3/4 mile from a transit stop.)
The average wait time for a bus or train during rush hour is 8.6 minutes (study average: 10.1 minutes)
Thirty-nine percent of jobs can be reached via transit within 90 minutes (above the average of 30 percent)
In Central Texas, we’ll continue to see low job connectivity without a more regional transit network. The Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA (on which this study was based) expanded in July 2008 from two to five counties. That’s a huge area, and Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties are quite rural. While 82.4% of the total MSA population live within Travis and Williamson Counties, employment centers are scattered throughout the MSA.
Here’s another compelling fact: 95% of Capital Metro’s service area is in Travis County. We have to be more creative as a region if we want to provide better job connectivity by transit. It should be noted that the study did not, to our knowledge, incorporate the transit services offered throughout the region by CARTS. Had those services been considered, the percentage of jobs accessible by transit would have increased.
The communities included in Capital Metro’s service area pay one percent of their local sales taxes to Capital Metro for transit service. But for many communities, that is not an option because all of their sales tax has been obligated. To foster a more regional, out of the box approach to transportation planning, Capital Metro adopted a service expansion policy in 2010 that gives us more leeway to explore creative partnerships and sources of funding for providing transit service. A recent example of this policy in action was the interlocal agreement with ACC to provide a bus stop on route 214 Northwest Flex at the ACC campus as Cypress Creek. The campus is outside of the Capital Metro service area, and therefore ACC covers the cost to provide service to that stop.
Capital Metro, the city of Austin, TxDOT and other partners are working through CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) to develop a regional system plan that incorporates all of the available transportation tools into one regional planning toolbox: roads, tolls, HOV lanes, MetroRapid bus service, city of Austin urban rail, MetroRail, Lone Star Rail, etc. The regional system plan will address three key questions for our region: 1. How will all of the components work together as a system? 2. How do we organize to develop and operate the system components? And, 3. How do we pay for it?
If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember a time when no one recycled. It took upwards of 20 to 25 years before recycling became the norm. Even after curbside recycling became available, people were slow to adopt. They didn’t understand the benefits of recycling, or even more likely, the benefits didn’t seem very personal. What did it take to change the norm? Incentives and limitations (carrot and stick approach), years of various education campaigns designed to change mindsets, and improvements to the process itself so it became easier to recycle than to throw it in the trash.
Land use planning as it relates to transportation is kind of like the early days of recycling. The benefits aren’t well known and haven’t been communicated in a way that resonates personally for people. People are slow to adopt. Hence, businesses set up shop everyday in areas that are not accessible by transit. It’s easier and sometimes cheaper to locate your business outside of the densest population centers. Where’s the carrot and stick?
As a region, we need to work harder to make the benefits of smarter land-use planning universally understood, and the choice to grow “smart” made as easy as, or easier, than the choice to sprawl. It takes time.
One step Capital Metro is taking is to link our transit plans with the activity-centered growth vision that’s the foundation of the CAMPO 2035 plan (see the activity centers marked on the map above). We’re also one of many partners who received a HUD Sustainability Grant that will plan and implement transit-supportive development in dense activity centers in our area.
The bottom line is that continuing to develop with low-density auto-oriented development patterns will result in more auto dependency and poor transit accessibility.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend BikeTexas‘ Shifting Gears: 2011 Transportation and Health Policy Luncheon and hear a presentation by international livable cities expert Gil Peñalosa. He’s the executive director of 8-80 Cities, an organization with a powerful mission to create vibrant cities and healthy communities.
Peñalosa’s presentation was both thought-provoking and inspiring. He said that most built environments are designed for an athletic 30 year old. Why don’t we build our infrastructure to accommodate our eight-year olds and our 80-year olds? Continue reading “Complete Streets”→