A Concrete Human Highway IN Our River? No. YES! And Why You Oughtta Care

A Concrete Human Highway IN Our River? No. YES! And Why You Oughtta Care

Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview

If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:

“$16 million boardwalk leads Austin bond proposal. City releases draft list of $84.8 million in transportation projects for possible November election.” (AAS)

“City unveils $85M bond package” (ABJ)

At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project.  What’s not to like?

A sample "Boardwalk" you may envision.

Or maybe something like this.

The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest.  It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?

Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right?  At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.

(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007.  The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials.  Hard to tell what to properly call it.)

And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”.  Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.

To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details.  As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding.  Let’s take a look.

First off there’s the topline math.  $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity.  That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask!  For just one project.  According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.

The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity.  Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of  “A” projects left standing.  What about the other 480 or so projects?  What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?

Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself.  While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure.  For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets.  For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.

Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks.  The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.





How can this be?

There are no boards in this boardwalk!

The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!

And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!

And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.

Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?

Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here.  There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.

In Part 2 of this story I’ll tell you about:  The Top 5 Issues of Concern about the Boardwalk project.
Finally, in Part 3 we’ll contemplate some other realities about our crown jewel community asset, the Town Lake Trail, that may finally be time to come to grips with: bicycles vs. pedestrians.

FREE Electric Car Charging Stations Available!

EVERY Downtown Austin condo tower and parking garage should apply to get one of these.  FREE while supplies last!

From the June 2nd Statesman story:  “Electric vehicles aren’t yet common on Austin roads. But recharging stations could start showing up on local streets and in home garages later this year.  A Silicon Valley-based company has received a $15 million federal stimulus grant to provide, for free, nearly 5,000 charging stations in Austin and eight other areas across the country. Businesses and homeowners alike can apply to receive one of the stations. Austin is one of nine regions serving as a kind of pilot for the charging stations.”  READ MORE HERE

Plenty Of Parking In Downtown Austin

Plenty Of Parking In Downtown Austin

Thanks to Chris Schorre at the Downtown Commission for this.

“Generally, prices are around $5-7 M-W and around $8-10 Thursday, Friday and weekends. NOTE: Parking is free on downtown streets after 5:30PM daily and on weekends so you can ignore those Pay to Park signs during those times.”

"Sound Off" From Austin Business Journal

"Sound Off" From Austin Business Journal

ABJ 'Sound Off' on the topic of rail in Austin

ABJ 'Sound Off' on the topic of rail in Austin

I’m quoted in this week’s ABJ regarding a transit system for downtown Austin.  The question is: “Does Austin need a better downtown transportation system, and what should it consist of?  Would you use it?”

“Absolutely.  Additional parking and reliance on cars is not a sustainable method of growing Austin, much less downtown.  Mobility inside of downtown is distinct from mobility to and from downtown, and the two systems should be designed and operated accordingly.

Commuter Rail – the Red Line –  is NOT the same technology as a tram or streetcar system.  The media must be diligent about choosing the correct terminology and avoid bundling terms, lest the word “rail” becomes the next four-letter word in Austin.”

Take The CAMPO Survey

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is presenting the three possible concepts for investing in the transportation system between now and 2035.

Give your feedback here and help positively impact Central Texas for decades to come!

Thanks to the Thomas Butler with the DAA for the link!