I'm surprised the Proposition 1 bond issue has grown so controversial. Proposition 1 would fund a pretty long list of pretty cheap road, bike and sidewalk improvements. These are mostly small projects. The boardwalk around Lady Bird Lake is a big item but, unlike the other items on the list, the boardwalk would be used by a broad cross-section of the city's population. Most of the projects (other than a couple of downtown projects) would benefit a relative handful of residents.
That's OK. I see Proposition 1 as an attempt to capture some of the fruits of urban growth and densification. Most of Austin's roads outside of the central core were laid when the city was more rural than urban. They were therefore built under the "just get me there" code -- no sidewalks, no bicycle lanes, no sewers, no street trees. But once rural roads now cut through major population centers. It makes sense to retrofit these streets with the amenities that good city streets ought to have.
Prop 1 opponents have complained that road improvements have been bundled with sidewalk and bicycle lane improvements. The Statesman jumped on this one:
In the future, city officials should do more to explain why biking lanes should be bundled with traffic improvement projects and whether it is appropriate to include a boardwalk with road projects. Perhaps they should be combined in one deal, but city officials should make that case.
This kind of bundling is actually necessary in a city with such diverse preferences. Other than the boardwalk and perhaps some of the downtown projects, none of the projects, individually, would benefit more than a very small percentage of Austin's population. This isn't a vote on a single, big investment, like a library or convention center. Voters are being asked to approve infrastructure investments that mostly will benefit someone else. Hence commuters who must fight their way through the "Y" in Oak Hill every day are being asked to pay for sidewalks and bicycle lanes on East Riverside. Don't grumble about it, guys. The city is also asking the people who live along East Riverside to pay for improving the "Y."
If everyone valued roads equally, it might make sense to restrict the bond issue to road projects. But not everyone in Austin values roads equally. People who live in the central core get little benefit from new or wider commuter arterials on the suburban fringe. I drive, of course, and so I care about the roads, but given the little amount of driving I do, I care a lot more about road quality than road capacity. A bicyclist might drive 90% of the time, but if he is generally satisfied with the roads as a driver and dissatisfied with the roads as a bicyclist, you will have to offer him bicycle improvements to entice his support.
Frankly, I'm surprised that those complaining about the "bundling" don't understand this. This is a city with a sizable population of anti-road environmentalists and bicyclists. A bunch of these environmentalists and bicyclists are working hard at this minute to convince voters to spend money on roads. They wouldn't be willing to do this if Proposition had been restricted to "roads-only" projects.