Austin On A Bike

Dear Ora: We need to fight for people, not just cars


District One council-member Ora Houston took to the Statesman today to offer her thoughts on Prop 1 – vote no, she says. Now, I know things like bonds can present complex issues around debt, budgeting, fiscal responsibility and all that. That aside, I take issue with Ora’s flawed logic that simply focusing on building more roads and moving cars faster is the solution to mobility in Austin, now and in the future. And this isn’t the first time that Ora has come out against funding infrastructure for alternative modes of transportation. The following is a response:

Dear Ora,

Do you have any idea why “bicycle use is less prevalent” in areas “such as on FM 969 (Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) in far East Austin”? Can you see far enough past your steering wheel to look at the future of Austin and not just the past?

People don’t ride bicycles on FM 969 because it is a death trap, plain and simple. You have communities out there that could benefit from being able to safely and cheaply transport themselves places by bicycle, but you only look at the time people with cars spend in traffic. The solution to traffic and transportation is not simply more lanes – it’s more modes.

I ask, take a quick look at your constituents. You’ll see one commonality, first and foremost: they are all human beings. They are all people and, while some may indeed suffer from disabilities or have other requirements, most have the inherent physical ability to walk, ride a bicycle, and use public transit – were it available. They don’t have built-in engines and seat belts and cruise control. Those are all features of things called automobiles that cost a bunch of money. You are fighting not for the people, but for the people who can afford the luxury of driving an automobile.

We need to fight for the people, not for the cars. We need to fight for people so they stop getting killed crossing roads like 183 or FM 969, because there’s no safe crossing for great distances. We need to fight for people and provide them a safe avenue for upward mobility, which can start at having a way to get to a job and not having to sink all that money directly back into car ownership.

Another concern with Prop. 1 is that very little of the money is focused on actual road construction. Most of the money is earmarked for engineering studies, bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, bus shelters and the like. So, the proposal is inherently defective because the plan is not focused on managing car traffic, which is our most-pressing concern.

You yourself have professed the need for more sidewalks, but condemn Prop 1 for focusing on alternative modes of transportation instead of simply and shortsightedly funding more “actual road construction”. So, what you’re saying here is that building more roads is the solution to traffic and congestion, right?

An integral way of “managing car traffic” is to provide people with alternatives to relying on cars.

This city has been built on the idea that cars are the ultimate ideal and look where it has gotten us – sitting in traffic for hours on end with few alternatives. You can’t fault a population for not walking places when we have a terrifically incomplete network of sidewalks, no respect for crosswalks, and people frequently die trying to cross the road. You can’t fault a population for not taking the bus, when buses take forever because we continue to focus on moving cars, not people, faster. You can’t fault a population for not riding bicycles when they don’t have a safe place to do so.  And trains…well, maybe one of these days we’ll vote for something other than toll roads and more traffic, but until then, you can’t take a train that doesn’t exist.

We need to focus on building a city that can allow for more than what it has in the past, not just build a city that continues to double down on the mistakes it’s already made.

Want to let Ora know what you think? Please do.

3 comments for “Dear Ora: We need to fight for people, not just cars

  1. Jon
    October 13, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Well said. We less people on council that believe more cars are the answer to our traffic problems. Less Zimmermans (and even Flannigan to an extent), less Houstons, less Pools. More Casars and more Natalie Gauldins could help drive a huge mode-shift in this city.

  2. Peter Wall
    October 17, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Here is what I wrote to Ms. Houston:
    Subject: Proposition 1
    Message: Dear Councilmember Houston,
    I read your Austin-American Statesman editorial and want you to know I think you are being disingenuous about the bond process being a “behind closed doors” kind of affair.
    As a citizen who cares about transportation equity I have attended meetings of the Urban Transportation Commission and the Bicycle Advisory Council and have clear memories of the public process surrounding the corridor plans that Proposition 1 will fund. I know City Staff reached out to neighborhood groups and council appointed commissions as part of the process and I think your characterization of their work is either misinformed or unfair. These corridor plans may not be all that any of us desire, but they are a result of a public process, not any shady back room dealing. I think you owe it to me and the rest of your District One constituents to acquaint yourself with the details of the corridor plans, and how they came into being before you exhort anyone to vote against them.

    • October 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

      Thanks for addressing that end of it. I also wrote her today, directly. I wrote:

      Ora – I wanted to send along two things. First, an article on bicycle use citing research from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, Rice University. The article talks about *who* uses bicycles and it isn’t just hipsters and recreational cyclists. It’s working-class folks who rely on it as a valuable form of transportation. Here it is:

      On this point, I volunteer with the Austin Yellow Bike Project and we have been providing bicycles to Caritas, Austin Recovery, Refugee Services of Austin, several different schools, and Casa Marianella – they keep coming back for more and tell us that these bicycles are invaluable to the people they are serving.

      In addition, I hoped you would read my letter, which I published on my blog about your opposition to Prop 1. Here it is:

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