Even An 85 MPH Highway Can’t Fix Austin’s Traffic Tangle

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In listening to growth related stories on NPR I often find myself at this crossroads…is this story fit for the Wall of Shame or the Wall of Fame? I suppose it’s because their motto tends to be “solid, objective reporting without necessarily thinking outside the box”. There is sufficient recognition of the underlying problem left out of this piece, Even An 85 MPH Highway Can’t Fix Austin’s Traffic Tangle, making it a candidate for the Wall of Shame. But overall, this is a serious and realistic look at growth in Austin, TX, on a micro level, and it doesn’t sugarcoat what this means for the future of the town. And more importantly, what is going on there is happening all over. And, offering full transparency here, I also have a vested interest in this story because, as a recent transplant to Austin myself, I am part of the very problem to which they are referring.

I, like many people I know in Austin, fled there from California for work, a slowed down pace, better cost of living, and well, music.  But two of these factors are ceasing to exist. And very quickly. But so much commentary about Austin’s growth is glowingly positive and optimistic. That’s because this rampant growth is actually encouraged. So it’s refreshing to hear some realism when it’s referred to as “a progressive city that hasn’t made much progress.” Texas is clamoring to grow its population/economy. They have a slew of incentives and they are working. Too well. Austin’s population is purportedly growing by around 200 people per day. And “it’s only going to get worse”, says this reporter.

He offers many more realistic examples of the growth problem throughout the story. It’s refreshing to hear phrases like…

“And with massive growth comes terrible traffic”

“He’s seen Austin’s traffic grow exponentially worse during the last 5 years”

“The growth trend has been steady and constant since 1870 and there’s no indication that anything is going to change.”

“The technical word we use is awful.”

“Austin’s relentless growth overwhelms all potential solutions”

I think people should be able to move wherever they want, whenever they want. And I’ve happily done that several times for most of my adult life. But where it can become a problem is when people are encouraged to move to a place because they are seen as walking dollar signs. That leaves little to no room for regard toward a local ecosystem.  Also traffic sucks.

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How much fame?

Lynsey worked as an Associate Producer for the documentary GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth and continues her work with Citizen-Powered Media today. She believes that, with continued support, Growth Bias Busted can have a huge impact on journalism concerning environmental, social, and economic issues. She lives in Austin, Texas by way of Berkeley, CA.


  • Dave Gardner
    Dave Gardner Wednesday, 18 December 2013

    This story is quite relevant to yesterday's Wall of Shame post, Saying Farewell to Nova Scotia for a Reason (http://www.growthbiasbusted.org/entry/saying-farewell-to-nova-scotia-for-a-reason). In that critique I wanted to advise David Fleming to "be careful what you wish for." Austin is a perfect example. This city is in love with growth, but that growth is making the place more and more miserable. And of course, it is never enough. They are caught in a vicious cycle, always needing another hit of the drug.

    I imagine that 85 mph bypass was just what some developers wanted, instantly increasing the value of outlying property that gained easy freeway excess. Meet the new exurbs. Lynsey, head out to Washington DC to see the future of Austin. There aren't enough freeways and subway routes to make the commute livable.

    Maybe the only thing Austinites have to look forward to is the day Yogi Berra's famous quote applies:

    "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."

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