What would Austin's roads look like if they were built for all 1 million residents? For starters, there would be a lot fewer cars.
That's what the city planned for when it adopted the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan in 2019—when similar to today, heavy traffic, rapid growth, and safety on roads were at the forefront of concerns in the city. The plan includes implementing Project Connect, a transition toward greener transportation and an emphasis on connecting communities, with the help of Vision Zero.
It is also part of a bigger goal of getting 50% of Austinites to stop driving alone or get off the roads altogether, according to Austin Transportation Systems Development Division Director Cole Kitten.
With rail lines to come and more emphasis on micro-mobility, the city will be able to accommodate a growing population, put money back in their wallets and be eco-friendly.
Lowering traffic deaths
In 2021, 4,480 people were killed on Texas roadways—marking the second-deadliest year in the state since 1981—part of a deadly national trend that led to the deaths of 38,000 Americans.
Austin adopted Vision Zero, a network of cities committed to reducing “people hurt or killed by crashes to zero with street improvements, policy changes and education,” in 2015. So far this year, Austin is up on traffic fatalities with 27 as of Tuesday, compared to 24 this time last year.
While speaking at SXSW 2022, United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said achieving the Vision Zero goal of no roadway fatalities is going to rely on creating equity within local communities, making climate-conscious decisions and taking as many humans out of the driver’s seat as possible, whether it’s AI drivers or implementing widespread public transit.
“The policy frameworks have not fully caught up with the technology—the safety potential for autonomous driving is enormous,” Buttigieg said. “Human drivers do not have a good track record, human drivers killed 38,000 people last year, so the potential is extremely appealing.”
The ASMP is a key part of achieving Vision Zero, as it will create the framework for necessary changes to help hit the goal of getting 50% of Austinites to stop driving alone or get off the roads altogether. Kitten said currently, 74% of Austinites drive alone.
With the implementation of greener infrastructure, safety, affordability and connected communities come hand in hand:
- Car ownership is extremely costly: The U.S. Department of Transportation Statistics reported transportation was the second-highest cost for American households at a $9,826 price tag in 2020. On the other hand, Austin Transportation Director Robert Spillar said more than half of surveyed Austinites were willing to bike if the route was safe.
- When people choose not to drive: Kitten said successfully creating alternative transportation to personal vehicles is “all about options.” Austin recently became #1 in the nation for bike lane investments and has seen success with micro-mobility options like scooters.
Climate concerns and electric vehiclesElon Musk predicts Tesla's Model Y—soon to be made in Austin—will be best-selling car in the world
If the goal is to get people out of cars, where do EVs fit in? Amid lithium shortages and climate concerns surrounding electricity, the reality is that many people need to have a car while living in Texas in 2022.
Buttigieg said he believes the 2020s will be transformative for transportation and views EVs as a means to an end.
“At the utility scale, (EVs are) more efficient, so it is still more efficient, even with a fossil source to turn it into power at a utility generation site,” Buttigieg said. “Track two is to take that trip but don't take it in a car. And that's a mode shift, right?”
Kitten said that gathering up-to-date information and having a long-range plan is essential to getting ahead of growth. Passing Project Connect was a big step toward filling gaps in Austin’s transportation and Kitten said the city has made progress since and will continue toward its goals.
“If everything happens the way it’s envisioned, then people could ultimately choose where to live based on how they can get to where they work without driving a car,” Kitten said.
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🗓 All weekend
Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities
All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park
This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.
6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703
This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.
10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park
Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.
Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.
11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway
Timmy and Tommy are ready to play.
As the 2-month-old white-and-tabby brothers swat feather wands, chase toys and generally hold court inside Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, a half-dozen potential adoptive parents look on lovingly, trying to get their attention.
“This is kind of like the speed dating of cats,” said Lupita Foster, owner of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge. “I intentionally didn’t put in any tables. That’s why we call it a lounge instead of a cat café because we have these lounge areas where you can sit and relax and cuddle.”
Foster, who has owned a cleaning company, Enviromaids, for 18 years, was inspired to open Purr-fecto Cat Lounge after adopting her own cat, Romeo, from a local shelter.
“When you want to adopt a cat, you have to spend a lot of time with them to get their personality,” Foster said. “I wanted to do something to help the community and something that makes me feel good, that warms my heart. A business with a purpose. This was a perfect idea.”
Actually, a purr-fect idea.
Inspired in part by a cat lounge she visited in Los Angeles, Foster began laying the groundwork for the business in late 2021 and officially opened the doors of Purr-fecto Cat Lounge, located at 2300 S. Lamar Blvd., in July 2022. Since then, she’s worked with rescue organizations such as Fuzzy Texan Animal Rescue and Sunshine Fund Cat Rescue to facilitate nearly 100 cat adoptions.
At any given time, there are 10-15 cats living in the space, which features an ideal blend of calm, cool corners and adorably Instagrammable backdrops with phrases such as “I want to spend all my 9 lives with you.”
Lina Martinez, 32, learned about Purr-fecto Cat Lounge from a friend’s Instagram post and made an appointment to visit two days later.
“My first impression was, ‘AWW!’” Martinez said. “The kittens were to die for. I felt happy and at peace – just what I needed.”
Visitors to the cat lounge pay $15 for a 30-minute CATXperience session or $30 for a 70-minute session that is spent getting to know the personalities of each cat. Foster said the first thing she typically sees from visitors to the lounge is a smile.
“Everybody that enters the door is smiling,” she said. “And we’ve seen people who have cried because they can’t have kids and they decide to go and adopt a cat instead.”
Foster said she loves bringing in cats who might not have a chance to be adopted at traditional shelters. She told the story of one cat named Izzy, who was partially blind, who was adopted by a family that had a deaf cat at home.
“Izzy was not going to get adopted anywhere else, but she’s extremely beautiful,” she said. “If she was in a cage in a rescue and you tell people she’s blind, she was probably going to be overlooked. But visiting our space, she doesn’t seem like she’s blind. She knows her way around. She moves around perfectly.”
Although Martinez, who had been casually looking for a pet to adopt since moving to Austin nearly four years ago, was interested in a cat named Ruby that she had seen on Purr-fecto’s social media, at the lounge she instead found herself drawn to 5-month-old mixed breed Tuxedo cat.
“I thought he was a star,” she said. “He worked the room and introduced himself to everyone. When I laid down to pet Ruby, he ran from the other side of the room and cuddled with me. It was game over. He got me.”
And she, of course, got him, complete with a commemorative photo that read “My Furrever Family” the day she took him home. Although his original name was Emmanuel, she renamed him Sullivan after her favorite DJ.
“Purr-fecto is special because of the amount of effort and love they put into taking care of the cats,” Martinez said, “and finding them good homes and making possible adopters feel at home.”
Foster, who spent a recent Thursday hosting a group of teenagers in foster care at the lounge, several of whom expressed interest in working there, said the best part about her new endeavor is that her heart is always full.
“I just feel complete,” she said. “I always felt as an entrepreneur that I was missing something. I knew I accomplished a lot, but in my heart I was missing a little connection with the community. Now I’m creating connections between humans and pets and that’s amazing. I’m creating family bonds. It’s just about love, you know. And we need that.”