Transportation leadership failure

On Tuesday I wrote about “Austin and Alcohol tourism” and speculated on the lack of an alternative transport policy as a leadership failure. I said:

Rather than rally behind what most transport conscious users and urbanization advocates believes would be hard, but right choice to put a rail line of some sort, straight down Lamar from North West Austin, [Mayor] Leffingwell used his last state of the city to rally behind the current rail proposal.

Bml2iMaCEAAchZX[2]And today Leffingwell lived up to that speculation. The outgoing Mayor is reported by the Austin Statesman as saying in relation to making space on the vital East Riverside corridor, the 2nd phase of the current proposal he

wasn’t on board with eliminating [Car] lanes.

Susana Almanza, president of Southeast Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood Association and a candidate for the City Council District 3 seat in this fall’s election, said:

the city, if nothing else, will need to rethink how wide to make the bike lanes and sidewalks.

What is wrong with these people? Doesn’t anyone brief them on the real world. The traffic all over the city is backed up at peak times. Offering a viable alternative transport which can make real progress is the only option to get people out of their cars.

But my post from the other day was off the back of Ben Wintles anger over the death of his friend Kelly. So, our Mayor doesn’t want to reduce the lanes for cars, a candidate for City government wants to rethink the width of bike lanes and sidewalks. For the clueless here are a few things to remember:

  • There are 4,000 pedestrian deaths every year in the USA [if anything else had death rates like that, we’d ban it]
  • In the last 10-years (2002-2012), the share of pedestrian death in the USA has gone from 11% of traffic fatalities to 14% [ie. for the clueless, things are getting worse]
  • 73% of those pedestrian deaths occur in cities [USA like the rest of the world, and Austin especially is getting increasingly urbanized]
  • Pedestrian death rates in the USA are far greater than in Europe
  • Europe has a different hierarchy of needs for streets, they put equal or greater priority on pedestrian, bikes and alternative transport than they do cars
  • Pedestrian and bike safety is not a random series of actions, it is a direct result  of policy, approach and influences
  • These combinations of policies and funding allocations, engineering and enforcement set Europe apart
  • Streets are for cars! No, streets are for the movement, delivery, transportation of people and goods

So, while the Statesman might call Leffingwell “urban rails primary political champion”, that doesn’t mean he has shown leadership. Rail or fail indeed Mr Mayor? One line going nowhere, connecting to another not getting built.

Footnote: As documented in wikipedia, Mayor Leffingwell is a 32-year airline pilot for Delta Airlines and grew up in the neighborhood where I live.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

5 thoughts on “Transportation leadership failure”

  1. Almanza’s quote was actually this:

    “Four lanes,” she said, “is just not going to accommodate the traffic.”

    I live in Montopolis and bike to work everyday. I also recognize how cut off and disconnected our community is from today’s culture of alternative transit options. Many folks use the bus, and if fares for a rail are affordable, I imagine many in the area will use a train.

    But many are dependent on cars because that’s what we’ve had and known for a long long time. There’s a big culture gap between poverty-stricken communities of color and transit advocates in this city. And I want to point out, in as non-combative and constructive way possible, the arrogance of a statement like “what is wrong with these people.”

    There are legitimate concerns among a car dominated culture in Monotopolis and even more opportunity to help alleviate those concerns through cross-cultural education. Its hard work, but its the way to build more support for rail, BRT and bikes.

    First time reading this blog. Cheers.

    1. Thanks for the detailed response. I appreciate the opportunity to follow up. First, I absolutely didn’t mean the people who live in ANY of the neighborhoods. I meant specifically Leffingwell and Almanza as quoted in the Statesman. I admit I abbreviated the quotes to summarize the problem as it relates to our car dominated culture.

      Really, my larger point was that the fact the none of the rail since I moved to Austin in 2006 has not had a leader. Mayor Leffingwell has proved a good business administrator. He has run an efficient, effective ship over his two terms. You might argue one or the other that he and the council have been too business friendly, take that to another blog. For the purpose of an alternate transport policy, everyone will be afraid of a change because 1. It will be expensive 2. they won’t really understand what they are getting 3. they won’t understand how it will effect them and, 4. Generally in this day and age they’ll believe that there will be favoritism, mismanagement and overspend, because thats all the media will focus on.

      To avoid this, the transport policy needs a champion; a leader. Someone in a position of authority, and ideally the Mayor but not exclusively. The leader would communicate the vision, oversea the strategy, and argue against the vested interests who will lobby, fund, and lie against the proposal.

      For arguments sake, Newsom when Mayor of San Francisco was a leader in a number of areas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavin_Newsom

      I agree on Montopolis, I’m sure of the practical issues, but some form of spur, or link to the airport line, should be provided and the trains should run right into downtown along Riverside in two central lanes dedicated to the trains. The any many reasons for this, the most important of which being to provide a quick, efficient, viable transport alternative into the city for workers. They could definitely run alternating express and local trains which would drop off on Riverside, or some variation of that.

      The trains also need dedicated racking inside the train cars for bikes, at least 8-10. Yes, they won’t get used to start with, that’s part of the vision and communication. The only way to make trains viable is to make them really attractive to the widest possible community. Over the next 20-years we have to make this work for the sake of Austin future.

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