CodeNEXT and Austin mobility: 4 takeaways from Wednesday’s expert panel discussion

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Wednesday night's CodeTALK: Mobility expert panel included (from left): Annick Beaudet, Austin Transportation Department; Jeff Whitacre, transportation planner with Kimley-Horn & Associates; Steve Hopkins from the city's Development Services Division; John Miki a consultant with Opticos Design; Terry Mitchell, the night's moderator from Momark Development; Nhat Ho, an engineer with Civiltude; Heyden Walker-Black, a transportation planner with Black & Vernoy and Dan Hennessy, an engineer with Big Red Dog.

Amid Austin’s rapidly growing population, traffic congestion has become a greater problem. Experts at Wednesday evening’s CodeNEXT discussion said a revised land development code could help.

Mobility was the subject of Wednesday night’s CodeTALK—a panel series that discusses how CodeNEXT, the city’s four-year, $6.2 million effort to rewrite the land development code. The panel of expert consultants, civil engineers and city planners agreed that a strong land development code would play an important but not the sole solution in addressing the city’s traffic issues.

In the latest Zandan Poll released earlier this year, 74 percent of Austinites said traffic congestion was the highest-priority issue for the city, with the cost of living coming in a close second. As Community Impact Newspaper reported in May, traffic and affordability are intrinsically related.

The panelists argued that a new land development code, more access to alternative modes of transportation and a fresh look at the city’s design would be key to relieving city traffic. Some residents expressed concern with the CodeNEXT plans. Here are four takeaways:

1. City planning needs to move away from car-centric focus

People have been building cities around cars for several decades and have not provided many adequate transportation choices, according to Heyden Walker-Black, a transportation planner with Black & Vernoy.

“We make cars happy, but we haven’t provided that many choices,” said Walker-Black, who suggested that a good land development plan is the best antidote to congestion.

2. Good land use will diminish the reliance on cars

John Miki, a CodeNEXT consultant with Opticos, said the revised code will make better use of the city’s land. Good land use, he said, will bring a variety of necessary uses closer together allowing people to walk or bike—rather than feel the need to drive—to work, a grocery store or a doctor’s office.

“So there isn’t a lot of necessary travel to places,” Miki said. “It gives choices to people to get out of their cars.”

3. The city’s transportation demands need to be met with a new kind of supply

Throughout Wednesday’s discussion, panelists continually argued in favor of a fresh look at transportation supply in a new way: it is no longer about providing more lanes, but rather about providing more modes, such as biking, walking, transit, and buses.

“Building new vehicle capacity is not going to solve the problem citywide,” said Dan Hennessey, an engineer with Big Red Dog. “It’s not, ’How do we get more people through this intersection?’ It’s, ‘How do we get more people around town?’”

Capital Metro and the Austin Transportation Department are working to not only provide but encourage residents to use alternative modes of transportation. Read more about that here.

4. But residents remain skeptical about planning around walking and biking in a city as hot as Austin

Residents on Wednesday said they worry the city relied too heavily on biking and walking as central modes of transportation in its city planning. One resident stressed that planning should incorporate transit needs and warned against walking and biking as reliable sources of relief to city transportation issues.

“Unless global warming makes us more like Amsterdam or Portland,” the resident said.