Congestion relief

City of Austin approves plan to hit the brakes on solo car commuters

City of Austin approves plan to hit the brakes on solo car commuters

Cap metro bus cyclist busy downtown Austin street
Austin City Council approved a plan to invest in alternatives to solo driving. Capital Metro/Facebook

A plan adopted by the Austin City Council seeks to drive down the share of solo commuters in traffic-clogged Austin from 74 percent to 50 percent over the next 20 years. The plan, approved April 11 by the council, envisions accomplishing the drop in solo commuting by moving people to other transportation options — particularly public transit and telecommuting.

Public transit, telecommuting, and other solo-driving alternatives would be carried out by, among other things:

  • bulking up the public transit system
  • encouraging ride-sharing
  • tweaking street design
  • improving the trail system
  • beefing up the city’s bike lanes
  • adding hundreds of miles of sidewalks
  • increasing pedestrian safety
  • promoting self-driving cars

However, much remains up in the air regarding precisely how those changes would happen. For instance, Austin voters will be asked in a 2020 bond election to approve a north-south mass transit lane that would run through the center of Austin. The price tag for the Orange Line project, along with the route of the transit line, has yet to be finalized.

As it stands now, Austin ranks as the 14th most traffic-congested city in the U.S., with a typical driver wasting 104 hours on the road in 2018. Officials fear that ranking will get worse if the regional population boom continues, yet little is done to address traffic congestion. The newly approved Austin Strategic Mobility Plan is the city’s all-encompassing approach to that dilemma.

To achieve a reduction in solo commuters, the plan targets bumping up the share of Austin commuters taking public transit from 4 percent today to 16 percent in 2039.

“A large public investment and strategic coordinated implementation of capital projects, transit system operations, and land use changes will be necessary to achieve this aggressive … shift,” the plan says.

The goal for telecommuting would be 15 percent in 2039, up from an 8 percent share of workers today. This, of course, would reduce the number of people who commute by car, public transit, and other means.

The plan also aims to boost the share of cycling commuters from 1 percent to 4 percent, and the share of walking commuters from 2 percent to 4 percent. The share of commuters who carpool, take taxis, or use similar modes of transportation would remain at 11 percent.

In a release, Robert Spillar, the City of Austin’s transportation director, calls the plan a “major milestone” for mobility in Austin.

“By aggressively shifting the growth of total trips to other modes and strategically expanding roadway system capacity, where feasible," says the plan, "we responsibly manage congestion into the future.”