Here’s How You Can Help Impact The Future of Austin’s Transportation System

Project Connect

Ever wish that Austin had a better public transportation system? Fantasize what it would be like to take a train into work every day?

Your dreams might just be coming true.

Our city’s public transportation provider, Capital Metro, is currently working on a big vision and plan (called Project Connect) for a true high-capacity transit system.

AEN Editor-In-Chief Amy Stansbury had the chance to learn more about Project Connect (and what it means for the future of Austin) during an interview with Jackie Nirenberg, community engagement manager with Capital Metro. You can watch the entire video below.

You can see a proposed map of the plan below (a larger picture is available by clicking on this link):

Project Connect Vision Plan

So how do we get from where we are now to this?

Cap Metro is currently in the process of conducting a series of public engagement opportunities, specifically around the two “spines” of the new system – the Orange Line and the Blue Line.

If built, the Orange Line would run from the North Lamar Transit Center, south down Lamar, onto Guadalupe (and past Republic Square Park), and onto South Congress Avenue.

The Blue Line would run from the airport, down Riverside, and all the way to the University of Texas.

Now for a few definitions…

High Capacity Rapid Transit

The Orange and Blue lines are so special because the plan is for them to feature high capacity rapid transit. That means they’d run on routes and in lanes that are only for them (aka dedicated pathways). This could be bus rapid transit, which means buses that have their own lane (no other vehicles allowed), light rail (basically, a train), or it could be some sort of autonomous rapid transit. The exact “mode” for these two new lines has not yet been decided, but the idea is for them to provide a fast, reliable transit option.

Bus Rapid Transit Lite 

This is what we currently have for the MetroRapid 801 and 803 bus routes. (These are the red bendy buses that connect Tech Ridge to South Congress and the Domain to downtown.) Bus rapid transit has some semi-dedicated pathways (like the bus-only lanes on Guadalupe), as well as “signal prioritization” at some lights (which means the light turns green for the buses before it does for everyone else).

As it stands right now, Project Connect envisions creating seven of these bus rapid transit lite routes.

Right-of-Way 

If you’ve ever listened to any kind of transit policy discussions, you’ve probably heard this phrase pop up.

Basically a right-of-way is just a strip of land that you can build a project on (like a train or a bus lane). As Jackie explained in her AEN interview, in Austin, “there’s not that much available land to make that happen.”

Because of that, part of the transit conversation revolves around land use trade-offs. During their public input process, one of things Cap Metro is wanting to learn is what you value about our current streetscapes and what you’d be willing to give up in exchange for transit.

For example, what if street parking or the central median had to be eliminated to make way for transit? How would you feel about that?

Now is the time to get involved

If you care about the future of transportation, traffic, or just your daily work commute, now is the time to get involved. Cap Metro is running a Virtual Open House on the Orange Line until May 24th.

On May 20th, they’ll be hosting an Open House for the Blue Line at the Austin Central Library, followed by several weeks of another Virtual Open House.

So what should you say at these public input opportunities?

Jackie recommends sharing personal stories about how you get around town now and how you’d like to use public transit in the future.

While it might not sound like much, Jackie says that stories like these are important to Cap Metro.

“In those stories,” Jackie said in her AEN interview, “….we find little clues as to what makes the right solution for each of these corridors, and for the community.”

She continued on to explain, “Some people might think, ‘oh I don’t know anything about transit. How am I supposed to even give input? I’m not qualified.’

It’s totally the opposite. What we want to know is, how do you live? What’s important to you? What are your aspirations for how you want to live in this community? And what do you think would make that happen for you?

Or it’s just your daily experience, which is also very important to us.”

So what’s next?

All in all, this effort is leading towards a likely bond election in 2020, when voters will actually be able to look at a final transit plan and decide whether or not we like it (and it if we’re willing to fund it with our tax dollars)…. so stay tuned!

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