A symbolic snub of I-35

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A symbolic snub of I-35

Council approves I-35 resolution

Council voted 7-3 today for a resolution calling for the I-35 expansion to be put off until the completion of two emissions studies.

It's unlikely that this resolution will change the course of the project, which is not up to City Council.

Unsurprisingly, the three dissenting votes were Mayor Kirk Watson, Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly. It's incredible how often those three vote together. Particularly striking is how reliably Pool votes with Watson.

As has frequently been the case when he is in the extreme minority, the mayor did not comment on the issue.

It must be a strange situation for Watson. Securing funding for the expansion of I-35 is arguably the "crowning achievement" (not my words) of his career in state politics. It's something he should be boasting about as he readies his reelection next year.

Instead, he had to listen to scores of speakers today denounce his signature work as environmentally destructive, dangerous and –– perhaps worst of –– pointless, since it won't reduce congestion.

There were a few people who showed up in support. Representatives for the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Austin Alliance argued against approving the Ellis resolution, claiming that a bigger highway will actually be better for the environment because of the new HOV lanes we're getting. This is nonsense, of course. Unfortunately, decades of data show that HOV lanes have utterly failed to accomplish their environmental and congestion-relief objectives.

Supporters of the project also keep invoking the idea that the new project will "reconnect" the city, exploiting the widespread perception that the "caps and stitches" are happening, when in fact the city still hasn't come up with the money for them.

Until recently, I think there was a general assumption in Austin that highway expansion is a political winner. Since everybody hates traffic, everybody must love what for generations has been touted as the traffic cure. I think many elected officials have recognized that that is not the case.

No, most Austinites aren't hardcore urbanists, but most are certainly increasingly concerned about climate change and very few of them are excited about the prospect of a 6-10 year highway construction project.

It's just too bad that our local officials didn't recognize this earlier, when they might have had a chance to do something about it.

Hence the comments from Chito Vela, who said that he had always tried in his career as an immigration and defense attorney to level with clients about the chances of success.

"I'm not aware of any legal and political strategy to stop it," he said.

In light of that, said Vela, the city must do everything to mitigate the damage of the expansion, capping as much of it as possible. Vela is the only CM on record in support of asking Austin voters to approve a bond for the caps.

And now, for some good transportation news

These stats blow my mind:

The decline in "passenger" deaths looks pretty similar to the general decline in car fatalities over the past 50 years, which has largely been attributed to seat belts, air bags and other safety improvements in cars.

What's most striking is the incredible decline in pedestrian and bike deaths. I can assure you that is not what has happened with adults.

One obvious explanation (there are some others) is that parents don't let their kids walk and bike alone nearly as much as they used to. Helicopter parenting may be turning kids into anxious, obnoxious little snowflakes, but it may also be saving their lives.

This is an unwelcome conclusion for some of us who reflect fondly on our own unstructured and largely unsupervised childhoods. I started walking to school alone in first grade and biked and walked freely around my neighborhood in elementary school. In middle school, in Paris, I was largely left to explore the city on my own by foot or metro.

My takeaway from these stats is that there's good reason I feel nervous about my own kid walking or biking on Austin's roads, particularly large corridors where cars move very fast. But I also believe that we could build infrastructure that would allow more parents to feel OK with their kids enjoying a bit of mobility freedom.

A bike lane on S. Congress Ave probably won't do it. We need more trails that are completely separate from vehicle traffic.