Advice to the City of Austin for making an Urban Rail reality


by HEATHER KOVAR / KVUE News and photojournalist DOUG NAUGLE

Posted on February 22, 2013 at 6:59 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 22 at 10:08 PM

AUSTIN -- Austin needs to do a better job of refining its message if it wants to keep a proposed urban rail plan on track. That's some of the advice City leaders got Friday from national experts on how to make urban rail a reality.

Relieving traffic and congestion in Austin has been a major push for building an urban rail system. However, the City was told by that team of experts that it needs to build its case beyond that issue.

"That includes things like economic development, affordability, access to jobs and the ability to be competitive against other cities," said Calvin Gladney. Gladney is with a Washington D.C. based urban redevelopment consulting firm. He was one of the experts on the panel sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Fellowship which studied the challenge of urban rail in Austin over the past week.

He also recommended a better sales pitch.

"It's really hard to get a quick, succinct message of 'Why does this make sense?'" Gladney said.

He showed Mayor Lee Leffingwell and others at City Hall that a Google search of Austin urban rail comes up with too many disjointed sources and said, "What we observed was there were multiple messages, multiple places to get information, and multiple voices."

The mayor says he will work on merging the message of urban rail and being able to explain in 30 seconds to anyone asking about the project.

Currently they're only in the planning of phase one and that wouldn't go to voters until 2014. That first phase would provide service between downtown, the Capitol and University of Texas. It would connect to the current Red Line at the convention center.

Mayor Leffingwell says this is a transit plan that should serve the entire region.

"We need to connect the outlying communities, the population centers outside of downtown to downtown," Leffingwell said.

Other challenges presented by the team include a question of what the initial investment should be, that a lack of mobility may inhibit economic growth, and that the complicated history of the effort is confusing.