Political& Technical Information about Transportation Planning

Planning for bicycle facilities doesn't exist in a vacuum. Activists who want more bicycle facilities in their communities need to understand about transportation planning in general.

General information

This page focuses on local information. Info of a more general nature is available on BicycleUniverse.info, including:
  • Books about transportation planning
  • How urban sprawl and land use patterns dictate why our transportation system is so poor
  • The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)
  • Smart Growth & New Urbanism
  • Federal requirements to consider bikes during roadway planning
  • The failure of new roads to relieve congestion
  • Free parking adds to congestion
  • Public subsidies: Autos on welfare
  • Cost of highways vs. public transportation
  • Light Rail, Monorail, and exotic public transit options
  • Ideal bicycle facilities
  • Problems with rumble strips

See BicycleUniverse for all of the above.

Looking for info on specific projects instead of general info?

Good transportation activists need:

  1. an understanding of the politics of local, state, and federal government involvement in roadway planning, and
  2. access to technical information about transportation issues.

For the political info, start with Bicycle Universe for general info. For local info, sign up for t he bicycle email list. If you need in-depth or specific information about local transportation issues, the most knowledgable local activists are Roger Baker (512-454-9060) and Dave Dobbs (Texas Association for Public Transportation, 512-282-1149). They've been following local transportation politics for decades, and probably nobody around here knows more than they do about the money trail in local & state road-building.

For the technical info:

Be the change you want to see in the world

Usually activists spend their time begging their government for change. It's easier to effect that change if you are the government. Therefore, one of the most powerful things bike proponents can do is to get themselves into positions where they help call the shots. Bike advocates would be well advised to seek leadership positions in:

CAMPO has the power

CAMPO is a political body which plans and funds transportation facilities for Travis and surrounding counties. They wield the power on planning for this region.

City Planning Codes encourage sprawl

Mike Dahmus writes: The fact is that the ZONING CODE in the USA is what prevents European-style [dense] urban development. It has nothing to do with the desires of the market. It has nothing to do with the desires and expertise of the developer. The fact is that the development we're talking about is simply illegal. If I want to build a block of flats on West Avenue, for instance, I must provide parking. A lot of parking. Even with the friendly CBD rules (in the classical 'downtown' area between I-35 and let's say Guadalupe), you still have to provide 25-80% as much parking as the normal (suburban) code requires. Yes, even in the middle of downtown. You are mandated by law to provide a parking space for every X square feet of space in your development. That ain't the market talking; it's the heavy hand of government.

Also, the setback requirements and height limitations for all zoning categories except MF-6 make urban development impossible anywhere but the Central Business District. And the variance process is not the answer either: urban core neighborhoods vigorously oppose them at every turn. (6-01)

Smart Growth & New Urbanism

Smart Growth is a system of development planning that discourages ugly buildings, poor transportation access, and other common development evils. The City awards tax breaks to developers who score enough points on the Smart Growth Matrix (a list of development criteria with varying numbers of points awarded for various positive development aspects). It's far from perfect -- for example, more points are awarded for planning parking properly than for accomodating bikes at all -- but at least it's something. Here's a link to the City's Smart Growth page.

New Urbanism is a community design philosophy that has much in common with Smart Growth. Check out PBS' website on New Urbanism.

TxDOT's 25-year Plan

As we write this in Nov. 2002, the Texas Department of Transportation is finishing up its 25-year plan for the state of Texas. Among the details:

The plan will go to the legislature for approval in February or March 2003.

Roger Baker on the rampage

Why tollroad bonds are going to default. Roger explains why toll roads will fail. Read the editorial. (6-03)

Cyclists ignore the big picture. Bikers love to get together and advocate something simple that they understand like takebacks of a few million dollars of CAMPO's bike funds a year, but meanwhile TxDOT is robbing the public of billions on road scams, and in the long run also crippling all efforts of our region to shift from alternatives to the automobile, whether bikes or transit or anything else. Read the editorial. (6-03)

CAMPO inflates population estimates to support more road-building. "The long-range CAMPO plan has lots of new  transit and light rail in addition to all its highways, but the rail never gets built while roads to serve decades of future suburban sprawl growth seem to jump ahead in priority.  The billions of dollars in Williamson county toll roads such as SH 130 being good examples. In fact, there is also a pattern of raiding transit Cap Metro's funds to divert its money from transit to roads, which cripples the funds needed for the transit assumed in the CAMPO plan." Read the editorial. (5-02)

How CAMPO Stacks the Deck. "Thus BILLIONS of dollars worth of new toll roads in Williamson County, like SH 130, are being planned on the basis of old mid-1990's growth trends as reaffirmed by a TTI study that the public cannot see." Read the editorial. (9-01)

Sounding the alarms about Travis County's insane road-building plans. The county government is poised to spend ridiculous amounts of tax money to build roads in outlying areas. This means that central city taxpayers will be financing suburban sprawl which benefits no one but the developers. Read the editorial. (8-01)

Explaining why road building is unsustainable. Baker predicts a return to rail as gas prices continue to rise, and as the cost of building & maintaining roads increases. He also predicts a depopulation of the suburbs back towards higher-density areas, and talks about how road-building is a corrupt subsidy for development interests. Read the editorial. (7-01)

Criticizing the efforts to build SH130. SH130 contains no bike lanes, the feds rubberstamped the plans even though an alignment hasn't been chosen, the highway would promote sprawl, and serves only as a subsidy for developers. CAMPO answers to no one. Read the editorial (6-01)

Slamming the approval of the CAMPO 2025 plan. Baker explains how the local transportation agency has hurt Austin by being a cheerleader for more mindless road-building. Read the article (6-00).

Exposing how the CAMPO 2025 plan is unaffordable. The funding analysis that's part of the CAMPO 2025 plan clearly admits that we can't afford it! Not without massive new taxes, anyway. CAMPO has even suggested licensing fees for bicyclists to pay for their sprawl plans! Read the editorial (5-00)

Deconstructing the Campo 2025 plan. Baker explains how and why Campo's 25-year plan is based on bad assumptions, and will require huge public subsidies that haven't even been identified. "This thing was a rush job, but the new policies and tone of the CAMPO 2025 Plan are authoritarian and disturbing -- especially in light of the fact that its own authors admit that this plan is unworkable within the current framework of government." Read the article (4-00)

Blasting local transportation planning & CAMPO. In this scathing and insightful editorial, Roger Baker explains how big business controls local transportation planning, and how CAMPO (the local organization charged with transp. planning) fails to serve the community. Read the editorial. (9-99)

Explaining why light rail isn't a panacea. "Whatever else light rail may be, it is absolutely no cure for congestion. Its a day late and a dollar short. ... Support for light rail on the part of the political establishment should be viewed as a symptom that existing highway oriented approaches have reached the end of their ability to make much difference to rescue a deteriorating situation...." Read the rest of the editorial

Summaries of CAMPO meetings: Feb. 2001 | June 2001

Dave Dobbs on the rampage

Deconstructing S.H. 130. Here's letter #1 and letter #2 from Dave Dobbs to the FHA regarding the State Highway 130 boondoggle.

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