For decades, infrastructure has been a major factor reinforcing racial divides, particularly in urban cities. The effects of local and federal segregationist zoning laws from the 1900s’ are still visible in Austin, with a large number of Hispanic and African American households residing east of I-35. Considering the booming numbers of incoming residents to the city combined with the housing, affordability and mobility issues we face, segregation of communities of color is likely to worsen unless quick action is taken.
The City of Austin has been exploring ways to improve mobility, and Mayor Steve Adler responded to the issue by introducing the Smart Corridor Resolution in June. The corridor plan will help decrease traffic congestion, improve transit, increase transportation options and build sidewalks and bike lanes. This approach will include installing smart traffic lights that can be timed remotely to adjust for weather, accidents, big events and traffic congestion; implementing access management tactics such as turning lanes, driveway consolidation, turning bays and raised medians; installing bus pullouts and queue jumps; and building safe sidewalks and protected bike paths.
The streets incorporated in this plan have been strategically selected based on extensive research. They include Airport Boulevard, East Riverside Drive, North and South Lamar, FM969 and MLK and Burnet. Although many of us would like to see other city areas included in the corridor initiative, it is also true that almost 50 percent of Austin’s total population lives within a two-mile radius from the selected streets. We can’t ignore the fact that, without the implementation of such a project, key intersections in our city will continue to be a nightmare to navigate during rush hour traffic.
This will be no easy task, and it will require consensus among Austinites to use their tax money to fund the initiative. The estimated total costs for the corridors is projected to be around $2.3 billion, a significant figure that many of us might want to see invested in education, health or other community programs. Yet, there are implied benefits to the corridor resolution that can benefit our communities of color as well as everybody else who lives here.
On June 24, the proposed $720-million bond that will be the project’s starting pint was moved forward by an 8-3 City Council vote. Language for the ballot will be brought up for discussion and approval in August before Austinites can vote in November.
The way I look at this initiative goes beyond my aversion to spending hours of my day commuting. Yes, it’s true that most Austinites believe transportation is the worst part about living in Austin, as reported by the Austin Monitor. Yet, the resolution can do more than improve traffic flow. It can also help bridge communities by improving means of transportation within urban areas. It can provide a way to navigate our city for people who don’t have the resources to afford a car but are willing to walk, take a bus or invest in a bike.
It’s important to think about the bigger picture here. This project would be a good starting point towards improving mobility from segregated areas in our city. It’s only fair that the City and we, as Austin residents, promote and support projects that fight the community divides that have been created throughout the decades.