Friday, May 31, 2013

If We Can Only Get There: Focus the transportation conversation on peak hour congestion

Guest post from Real Estate Council of Austin (RECA) board member Tom Terkel.

We are blessed to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Austin is changing daily, offering all of us ever more opportunities to work, learn, connect, grow and prosper - it is there for the taking for each of us.

If we can only get there. I mean literally. If only we can physically move from one place to another. Our traffic congestion threatens the quality of life we hold so dear as Austinites. When we have to leave at 4:30 to get to a 6:00 lecture at UT, we won’t be so blissful about our great city. And if we don’t continue to focus on creating alternatives for mobility, that dire prediction will become reality. If we wanted to live in Los Angeles, we’d move right?

I am so glad Leadership Austin will be discussing mobility solutions in June, because we need our region’s best and brightest thinking about this problem, and we need you to keep it at the forefront of our public conversation.

Let’s start by defining the problem. Is it moving around at 10:30 in the morning or at 2:30 in the afternoon? Not so much. The true mobility challenges occur in the morning and afternoon rush hours. Peak hour congestion is what the transportation experts call it.

There are many well-intentioned people who offer transportation solutions to problems other than peak hour congestion. If the problem we’re solving is obesity, then sure, a logical policy solution is encouraging walking on trails or riding bikes. And, building Great Streets-style sidewalks and safer biking lanes are great ideas, but they don’t materially contribute to alleviating peak hour congestion.

We need to focus on peak hour traffic congestion as the preeminent problem to be addressed by our transportation policies, priorities, and spending allocations. When we do that, our conversation changes. We start with a blank slate, and then we would:

  • Use existing data about where people live and where they work to create an accurate picture of where people are moving from and to at peak hours of congestion throughout the Austin region. We have to remember Austin’s economy depends on the regional communities that surround us too.
  • Use the data described above to prioritize congested corridors for policy and spending focus. What solutions could be utilized to alter the current road or create an alternative to the route currently utilized? How can mass transit contribute to alleviating peak hour congestion?
  • Analyze the costs associated with potential mobility solutions and describe the return on investment in terms of congestion relief before making decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Maybe urban rail is the best solution and the highest priority; if so, it will become obvious. Maybe another mode or another route or another corridor is the best solution and the highest priority. Only one way to know.

What our city needs for the residents here today - as well as those who are moving here - is an honest process without a pre-ordained outcome that is oriented around solving peak-hour vehicular congestion, and an open-mindedness to what those solutions may be.

Tom Terkel is Founder and Principal of Four T Realty and is a member of the Real Estate Council of Austin's Board of Directors.


  1. Tom, I could not agree more with you. Right here in Austin, our company, RideScout, created a mobile App to better utilize infrastructure we have all around us.

    Our goal is to provide ground transportation information so intuitively and efficiently that riders will experience the same on-demand flexibility and reliability of car ownership and consider leaving their car at home or giving up car ownership completely. When they do that....peak traffic is a little more bareable. As a Leadership Austin alum, I'm proud to be a part of the solution.

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