Dear City Council members,
Today you are scheduled to vote on the Project Connect recommendation for the Highland and East Riverside sub-corridors. You will hear from many transit advocates on this issue. Many of these will argue that Guadalupe-Lamar should be included in the next phase. I agree with them. I'm not writing here to praise Guadalupe-Lamar, however, but to urge you to reject Highland.
The eleven "sub-corridors" chosen by the Project Connect team to study are not, in fact, "corridors" at all (sub- or otherwise) but instead are large regions or sectors of the City. This might seem like a pedantic distinction, but it's not. Ultimately, what we care about is what a given transit line will do for us: how many people will it move, where will it go, what catchment will it serve? Drawing a large rectangle on a City map does not answer those questions, no matter how much data one crunches.
Project Connect's methodology ignored many critical questions. But the worst omission was probably this one: it didn't even bother to ask whether each sub-corridor has streets suitable for high-capacity transit investment.
We know which streets these are. We've identified them in our Land Development Code. Subchapter E of Title 25-2 defines "Core Transit Corridors" to be "roadways that have or will have a sufficient population density, mix of uses, and transit facilities to encourage and support transit use." Article 5 of Subchapter E identifies both the existing Core Transit Corridors and the future Core Transit Corridors.
City Council members, neighborhood representatives, and ordinary citizens have lavished their time to plan for these Core Transit Corridors. In 2008, the City upzoned hundreds of tracts on Core Transit Corridors throughout the urban core for Vertical Mixed Use on the premise that these streets would be the focus of our transit investment and thus particularly suited for dense development. The City Council adopted special design guidelines in Subchapter E for roads, sidewalks and buildings on Core Transit Corridors in order to create a friendlier environment for pedestrians and transit riders. In fact, the commercial design guidelines are built around a hierarchy of streets, with Core Transit Corridors at the apex. Core Transit Corridors are the streets we all agreed would be the focus of our transit investments and planning.
It is thus remarkable that Project Connect's planners managed to choose the only sub-corridor -- Highland -- that lacks either a current or future Core Transit Corridor connection to downtown or UT. Airport Boulevard, of course, is a Core Transit Corridor. But it does not connect to downtown/UT, and there is no Core Transit Corridor connecting Airport to downtown/UT through the Highland "sub-corridor." (Of course, Guadalupe-Lamar -- the preferred alternative of many -- connects UT and Airport quite nicely, but it appears to be off the table.) Choosing the Highland sub-corridor will require that our next high-capacity transit investment be made on Duval or Red River in the vicinity of the blue arrow, below). Neither of these has been identified as even a future Core Transit Corridor.
Our high-capacity transit investments -- particularly rail -- ought to go on streets that are suitable for them. The Project Connect team's methodology of picking sectors independent of a proposed route ensured that street suitability wouldn't be a factor. It has now produced a ludicrous recommendation to place our next high-capacity investment onto a quiet neighborhood street (Duval) or, at best, a secondary urban road (Red River). Please reject it.
Please note that these criticisms do not apply to the East Riverside sub-corridor. East Riverside is a Core Transit Corridor. It has high bus ridership today. It is experiencing dense redevelopment today. Council recently adopted a detailed, transit-friendly regulating plan that presumes the corridor will be served by high-capacity transit. And it has the infrastructure (mainly, a wide median) well-suited for rail. It will be pricey, though -- crossing Lady Bird Lake and I-35 won't be cheap -- and for that reason I continue to believe Guadalupe-Lamar would be a better initial choice.