Editor's note: CultureMap Austin partners with Leadership Austin — the region's premier provider of civic and community leadership development — in this ongoing series of editorial columns meant to inform Austinites about issues facing our city. The opinions of Leadership Austin alumni and faculty members are their own and do not represent an official position of CultureMap or Leadership Austin.
We are blessed to live in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Austin is changing daily, offering all of us ever more opportunities to work, learn, connect, grow and prosper – it is there for the taking for each of us.
If we can only get there. I mean literally. If only we can physically move from one place to another. Our traffic congestion threatens the quality of life we hold so dear as Austinites. When we have to leave at 4:30 p.m. to get to a 6 p.m. lecture at UT, we won’t be so blissful about our great city. And if we don’t continue to focus on creating alternatives for mobility, that dire prediction will become reality. If we wanted to live in Los Angeles, we’d move right?
I am so glad Leadership Austin will be discussing mobility solutions in June, because we need our region’s best and brightest thinking about this problem, and we need you to keep it at the forefront of our public conversation.
Let’s start by defining the problem. Is it moving around at 10:30 in the morning or at 2:30 in the afternoon? Not so much. The true mobility challenges occur in the morning and afternoon rush hours. Peak hour congestion is what the transportation experts call it.
There are many well-intentioned people who offer transportation solutions to problems other than peak hour congestion. If the problem we’re solving is obesity, then sure, a logical policy solution is encouraging walking on trails or riding bikes. And, building Great Streets-style sidewalks and safer biking lanes are great ideas, but they don’t materially contribute to alleviating peak hour congestion.
We need to focus on peak hour traffic congestion as the preeminent problem to be addressed by our transportation policies, priorities and spending allocations. When we do that, our conversation changes. We start with a blank slate, and then we would:
- Use existing data about where people live and where they work to create an accurate picture of where people are moving from and to at peak hours of congestion throughout the Austin region. We have to remember Austin’s economy depends on the regional communities that surround us, too.
- Use the data described above to prioritize congested corridors for policy and spending focus. What solutions could be utilized to alter the current road or create an alternative to the route currently utilized? How can mass transit contribute to alleviating peak hour congestion?
- Analyze the costs associated with potential mobility solutions and describe the return on investment in terms of congestion relief before making decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Maybe urban rail is the best solution and the highest priority; if so, it will become obvious. Maybe another mode or another route or another corridor is the best solution and the highest priority. There's only one way to know.
What our city needs for the residents here today — as well as those who are moving here — is an honest process without a pre-ordained outcome that is oriented around solving peak-hour vehicular congestion and an open-mindedness to what those solutions may be.
Tom Terkel is an Austin leader in both business and civic involvement. After beginning his career as an attorney in Dallas, he joined Henry S. Miller Co. Development Group in 1985 as the Austin Development Partner focused exclusively on the development of shopping center projects. In 1989, he and several colleagues formed Cencor Realty Services and The Weitzman Group, and Mr. Terkel ran the Austin office for the two companies until 2001. During that time, he developed or redeveloped 14 retail projects comprising 2,000,000 square feet. In 2001, Mr. Terkel created Cencor Urban to develop in-fill, mixed use projects, such as The Triangle. From the end of 2008 until March 2010, he led Cencor Solutions, and in 2010, he started FourT Realty with his daughter Taylor Terkel. FourT Realty is a real estate investment and asset management firm that seeks value-add investment opportunities in central Texas retail projects.
In addition, Mr. Terkel is an active member of several professional and civic organizations, including the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Urban Land Institute where he has served on the District Council of the Austin Chapter. In 2008, Mr. Terkel served as President of the Real Estate Council of Austin, an organization he helped found in 1991 and of which he remains a member of the Executive Committee of its Board of Directors. He received the Gary Farmer Commendation of Excellence Award from RECA in 2007. Mr. Terkel has served on the Board of the Austin YMCA (where he has chaired several committees), the Austin Family House, the 1991 Mayor’s Task Force – Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance and the 2006 Bond Election Advisory Committee for the $560 Million Bond Package for the City of Austin. In addition, Mr. Terkel served as Chairman of Zachary Scott Theatre’s $20 million Capital Campaign while serving on its Board of Directors. Mr. Terkel was named an honorary Life Member of the Zachary Scott Theatre Board in 2007.