On Thursday, October 26th, the Austin City Council and Planning Commission will be holding a joint public hearing at City Hall relating to the HOME (Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment) initiative. Below are some quick tips for how to sign up and how to deliver effective public comment.
How to Sign Up to Speak
To speak at the public hearing either in-person or virtually, you must register in advance. Online registration closes on Wednesday, October 25th at noon. You can sign up HERE.
Public comments are expected to start around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, and AURA will have volunteers onsite to support anyone registered to speak. If you plan to attend Thursday, please text us at 210-264-1093 so we can add you to the list.
How to Give Public Comment
Giving public comment to City Council for the first time can definitely feel daunting. At the end of the day, most people who participate are normal people just like you, and after your first or second time it will start to feel more natural. You have as much of a right to make your thoughts known as anyone, don’t be afraid to have your say!
Here is some general advice:
Write down what you want to say ahead of time, either your exact testimony or bullet points. This also helps to ease nerves!
Don’t feel bad about feeling or sounding nervous! Being nervous makes you look more like a genuine, regular person.
Be straightforward and sincere. You don’t need to use gimmicks, just say what you want to say.
Be aware of the time limits. Each speaker will have two minutes to speak. That’s around 250-300 words. Don’t feel obligated to use the whole time.
Be positive. Painting a positive vision for what you want is more effective than just complaining. Signal that if they take positive steps, you’ll support them.
Use your personal story!
How to Structure Your Testimony:
“My name is X and I am a resident of Austin in District X.” Find your district here.
Start with: “I’m speaking today to urge the Commission and Council to support the HOME initiative.”
Finally, share how Austin’s housing crisis has impacted you personally!
If you need a little inspiration, we have a lot of information about HOME on our webpage here. And if you don’t have a personal story, it’s still important for city officials to hear that you support these important reforms. At the end of the day, a brief sincere message of support is more important than long oratory. There will be a lot of speakers on Thursday, so a short and sweet message of support is more than enough!
The Austin Transportation and Public Works Department (TPW) is proposing safety and mobility improvements that will:
Enhance E 5th St by repaving the road and adding protected bike and walking paths, more outdoor spaces, and connections to major trails like the Southern Walnut Creek Trail.
Set up for improved train service by double tracking the Red Line tracks between Navasota & E 7th St.
Most importantly, you can help support these improvements by answering the survey linked below. We’ve provided some suggestions, but please feel free to use your own language and draw on your own experience traversing these streets.
What do you like about the proposed changes?
Double-tracking that can increase train frequency
Improvements and repaving will improve comfort and safety for all modes of travel
Connections to the nearby trail networks which greatly open up where people can get to by walking, biking, or rolling
Separated and protected biking and walking paths
More outdoor space for people and local businesses
What do you dislike about the proposed changes?
Shared street with traffic calming and less physical protection over a small section due to space constraints
On-street parking which blocks the view and impairs safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers
Please let us know your level of support for the proposed changes.
These are generally very good improvements over existing conditions and we would recommend you “Strongly Support” these proposed changes.
On July 20th, Austin City Council will consider the Home Options for Middle-income Empowerment (HOME) resolution brought forward by Council Member Leslie Pool. The HOME resolution seeks to diversify Austin housing by adjusting zoning laws to support the development of missing middle housing (e.g. townhomes, triplexes, and cottage courts). This resolution will increase housing affordability, enhance our neighborhoods, and support middle-income Austinites.
How you can help
Speaking in front of City Council at the July 20th meeting is the most impactful way to help, but calls and emails are also a great way to let Council Members know how you feel. Let them know how the high cost of housing has affected you or people you know, and why you believe more diverse and affordable housing is essential for Austin’s future. You don’t need to be a policy expert—what matters most is your personal story.
Your message can start as simply as this:
“I support more affordable and diverse housing options in Austin. This is vital to foster a more inclusive, vibrant, and equitable city. The current high housing costs are unsustainable and affect our community adversely.”
Speaking at the Council Meeting
City Council will take public comments on the HOME resolution on July 20th at Austin City Hall at 10:00 AM. These are the relevant housing resolutions on the agenda:
Item 126:The HOME resolution (minimum lot size reduction and 3 units per lot) by CM Pool
Item 124:Resolution to lower notification requirements for rezonings by CM R. Alter
Item 158:Ordinance to remove site plan requirements for 3 or 4 units by CM Ellis
The Austin Transportation and Public Works Department (TPW) is proposing safety and mobility improvements to two major streets within the city and is soliciting public feedback on both projects.
As a general principle, we believe more space in Austin should be allocated to sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit-priority lanes, and this guide reflects that point of view.
Barton Springs Road Safety Pilot Survey Guide
TPW is proposing mobility and safety improvements on a dangerous stretch of Barton Springs Road between Stratford Drive and South Lamar Boulevard. The changes include installing wider protected bike lanes by removing one lane of traffic, creating shorter and safer pedestrian crossings, relocating bus stops to those safer pedestrian locations, and installing sidewalks on the north side of Barton Springs Road through Zilker Park.
The survey has two open-ended questions asking for feedback about the design. We have suggestions for comments below:
What do you like about the proposed pilot design?
Like the protected bike lanes
Like the reduction to a single lane of traffic
Like the pedestrian enhancements
Love the inclusion of a pedestrian route through Zilker Park
Like the overall effort to make meaningful multimodal and accessibility improvements to an important city street
What do you not like about the proposed pilot design?
Dislike widening the single lane of traffic, which will encourage faster driving and counteract the recent lowering of the speed limit to 30mph
Dislike flexible posts along the bike lanes – prefer stronger protection such as curbs or bollards
The Barton Springs Road Safety Pilot surveyis open until June 30, 2023.
East 12th St Survey Guide
TPW is proposing significant connectivity, mobility, and safety upgrades along a 2.5-mile stretch of East 12th Street between Navasota Street and Webberville Road. The upgrades include the installation of pedestrian crossing islands, protected bike lanes, and widened sidewalks. It would remove certain left-turn only lanes and on-street parking at intersections, and optimize bus stop locations along the route.
The survey is pretty straightforward and only allows for comments on the entirety of the project, not its individual components. Below are some examples of possible responses to the open-ended questions.
3. What do you like about the proposed changes?
Like protected bike lanes in both directions
Like the removal of on-street parking at intersections
Like floating bus stops to protect bike lanes
Like installation of pedestrian island crossings
Like widening sidewalks – prefer wider than existing conditions
4. What do you dislike about the proposed changes?
Dislike the preservation of on-street parking along the route
Dislike flexible posts along the bike lanes – prefer stronger protection such as curbs or bollards
5. Please let us know your level of support for the proposed changes.
These are generally very good improvements over existing conditions on East 12th Street and we would recommend you “Strongly Support” these proposed changes.
The East 12th Street survey is open until July 5th, 2023.
AURA’s membership has taken a vote on which options they prefer out of the proposed Project Connect light rail options. Our members voted in favor of the On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket option, with On-Street: North Lamar to Pleasant Valley coming in a close second. The remaining light rail plans still had strong support among AURA members, especially compared to a “No Build” option which received little to no support. This demonstrates AURA’s continued support of Project Connect and moving forward with building light rail.
As part of Project Connect’s public input process, we wrote a letter to Austin Transit Partnership (ATP) Executive Director Greg Cannally reflecting the endorsements of the Project Connect Working Group and AURA as a whole. Here is the full text of the letter:
On behalf of the membership of AURA, Austin’s largest grassroots, pro-transit organization, we wanted to share our feedback regarding the current ATP Project Connect options.
First, we want to express our appreciation for ATP staff and engineers for their availability and helpfulness during the public input process. Throughout our discussion process, ATP provided detailed information and answered numerous questions. This was crucial for the success of the AURA Project Connect Working Group and allowed us to conduct a comprehensive and holistic evaluation of each Project Connect option. We appreciate their support and engagement.
To analyze all light rail options and the future of transit in Austin, the all-volunteer AURA Project Connect Working Group built a robust evaluation framework. Our goal was to equip Austinites with the necessary information to understand and contextualize each option’s impact on the city. Additionally, we aimed to provide a formal recommendation to inform an official endorsement vote of the AURA membership. After extensive research and investigation, the AURA Project Connect Working Group confidently settled on a specific recommendation: On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket with the South 1st river crossing.
While all options are undoubtedly better than the current lack of any light rail, the working group has recommended the 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket option because it lays the best foundation for the city overall. It balances every key criterion while providing a foundation that enables us to quickly and iteratively expand the system, achieve our mode shift goals, and connect every part of Austin. Although the lack of grade separation and connections to valuable destinations such as the airport are valid concerns, the working group believes that these issues can be mitigated or resolved while retaining the strengths of this initial build option. You can see the full output of the working group (recommendation, evaluation matrix, and reports) at https://aura-atx.org/project-connect-working-group-recommends-on-street-38th-to-oltorf-to-yellow-jacket-light-rail-option/
The AURA membership also chose to endorse the On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket rail option, but to also support all of the rail options.This choice shows continued, strong support for Project Connect, and that any of the light rail plans would be vastly preferred to Austin’s current lack of light rail. It’s worth noting that the vote was narrowly won, the On-Street North Lamar to Pleasant Valley option was a very close runner-up. We believe this shows the membership greatly values high ridership and believes that the significant compromises necessary for full grade separation through downtown are not worth it. In making this decision, we recognize that without grade separation our shared responsibility as transit planners and advocates will be even greater to ensure that private vehicles are given as few opportunities as possible to interfere with our more efficient and higher capacity transit options. AURA members also voted with a strong preference for the South 1st crossing and that the Austin Airport connections should not be a high priority for Project Connect’s initial phase.
Thank you for carefully considering our input and we are excited to collaborate with Austin Transit Partnership, Austin City Council, and CapMetro to make Project Connect an historic success.
Cc: Members of the Austin Transit Partnership Board
The AURA Project Connect Working Group has diligently built an evaluation framework over the past few weeks to analyze all light rail options and the future of transit in Austin. Our goal was to equip Austinites with the necessary information to understand and contextualize each option’s impact on the city. Additionally, we aimed to provide a formal recommendation to inform the AURA membership’s endorsement vote. After extensive research, investigation, and evaluation, the AURA Project Connect Working Group has confidently settled on a recommendation: On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket. AURA members will consider this recommendation and vote on which option to endorse as an organization.
While all options are undoubtedly better than the current lack of any light rail, the working group has recommended the 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket option because it lays the best foundation for the city overall. It balances every key criterion while providing a foundation that enables us to quickly and iteratively expand the system, achieve our mode shift goals, and connect every part of Austin. Although the lack of grade separation and connections to valuable destinations such as the airport are valid concerns, we believe that these issues can be mitigated or resolved while retaining the strengths of this initial build option.
Before delving further, we want to express our appreciation for ATP’s leadership and engineers for their availability and helpfulness throughout the public input process. Throughout our internal process, ATP provided invaluable information and answered every question we had. This was crucial for the Project Connect Working Group to conduct a comprehensive and holistic evaluation of each option from every key angle. We are excited to collaborate with ATP, City Council, and CapMetro to make Project Connect a massive success.
How Did Each Option Do?
The following infographic presents the grades that each of the proposed light rail options received based on the rubric developed by the Project Connect Working Group. The evaluated options are On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket, North Lamar Transit Center to Pleasant Valley, Partial Elevated 29th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket, Partial Underground UT to Yellow Jacket and On-Street 29th to Airport.
While there is significant variability among all the options, each one holds immense potential for Austin’s future as a transit-oriented and sustainable city. The only alternative that receives a failing grade in this assessment is not building anything at all.
Our Reports & Evaluation of Each Option
On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket
The proposed On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket rail option is a light rail system that would run through the Guadalupe, East Riverside, and South Congress corridors, connecting major population centers and destinations in Downtown Austin. This option has the potential to significantly improve Austin’s transit infrastructure, with an estimated daily ridership of 30,000 and frequent service. Compared to other non-forked options, this option has double the frequency, which can increase ridership and add value to any potential expansion of the system to the north.
While the rider experience is generally positive with fast and convenient hop-on times, the at-grade operation may result in interruptions and reliability issues. Nonetheless, the route provides excellent connectivity, including access to grocery stores, the University of Texas, and a short bus connection to St. Edward’s University. Furthermore, the rail line is expandable from all ends and covers significant parts of Downtown Austin and the University of Texas. While concerns about grade separation and coverage in certain northern neighborhoods exist, the long-term benefits in terms of ridership, rider experience, expandability, community reach, equity, and pedestrianization potential led us to select this option as our recommendation.
We are currently working on a full list of implementation and policy recommendations that will address any downsides of the system to ensure its success. Some of these recommendations will be applicable to all options, but others may be specific to the On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket rail option.
This option connects Guadalupe, East Riverside, and South Congress corridors, branching out to major destinations like Downtown Austin and the University of Texas. The system offers great connectivity, expandability, and the best rider experience out of all options, with potential for future growth and development. However, due to the high estimated cost of investing in elevated grade separation, it has fewer stations and serves fewer affordable-income households compared to the longest surface options. The option provides decent community reach and equity but needs improvements in pedestrianization potential and ridership to become a comprehensive transit system for the city.
This option was incredibly promising as a vision for light rail as it offers high initial ridership figures and excellent connectivity, but is significantly constrained in terms of expandability and rider experience. While the route has excellent connectivity and pedestrianization potential, it faces challenges in rider experience, expandability, and community reach & equity due to limited frequency, expansion constraints, and gaps in serving certain neighborhoods.
This proposed option is a light rail system that is intended to serve the East Riverside and Guadalupe corridors in Austin. It offers the highest level of service to the most densely populated areas of the city, connecting Downtown, the Texas Capitol Complex, and the University of Texas with major parks located south of the river, as well as new developments and student housing along Riverside. However, it does not offer service to North or South Austin. High costs associated with underground grade separation in downtown result in fewer stations and cause the system to miss several dense jobs and population centers further north. Initially, this option is expected to serve 20,000 daily riders, which is the lowest ridership of all the presented alternatives. Although the grade separation significantly improves the rider experience, the system’s 10-minute frequencies hold it back from truly excelling.
As Austin has grown into a hub of business and tourism, hosting major conferences and events like SXSW and ACL, people from all over the world travel to the city regularly. The Project Connect Working Group took concerns about the lack of a direct airport connection seriously. However, we ultimately decided against prioritizing a direct airport connection in the initial build due to the negative impact it would have on ridership, rider experience, and connectivity. Instead, we believe that connecting the Yellow Jacket station to the airport via a shuttle or AirTrain, which is funded separately from Project Connect, is a better option. The initial build of Project Connect’s light rail will serve as the backbone of Austin’s future as a more transit-oriented and sustainable city, and prioritizing a direct airport connection would not align with this vision.
The AURA Project Connect Working Group has worked diligently to produce these findings and recommendations. We’re confident that On-Street 38th to Oltorf to Yellow Jacket will provide the best backbone to Austin’s future as a transit-oriented and sustainable city. Still, AURA’s endorsement ultimately belongs to its membership, and we’re looking forward to seeing what they vote for. The other evaluated options are still promising, and each holds great potential for Austin’s future as a transit-oriented and sustainable city. The only alternative that receives a failing grade in this assessment is not building anything at all.
Special thanks to Christian Tschoepe, Chloe Wilkinson, Edgar Handal, Hunter Holder, Jimmy Daly, Parker Welch, Luis Osta Lugo, Zach Faddis, and everyone else involved in helping make the vision of the Project Connect Working Group a reality.
AURA’s Project Connect Working Group has created a Graded Rubric for the 5 Project Proposals released by Austin Transit Partnership based on the following criteria listed below. The goal of the rubric is to help discern the pros and cons of each proposal. As AURA works towards making an endorsement of one of the proposals, our organization wants to give members the information so that they can make an informed vote.
These six criteria are focused on as they are an indicator of many successful systems both nationally and globally. These are also criteria that transit experts point to as key marks when building a new rail system. While all options are fundamentally better than the current setup, it is always important to compare and contrast proposals.
Ridership is a quite straightforward criteria: the number of riders the system expects to serve on a daily basis indicates the level of demand for and success of the system. This is possibly the best starting point we have in evaluating a successful transit system.
Access to a wide variety of local or regional activity centers is one of the main goals of any transit system. Connectivity is the criteria which measures the degree to which the system facilitates this, whether the access is through a connection directly to a key destination (or within walking/rolling distance), or through additional modes of transportation, such as a bus, bike, or car.
Connections to services, such as medical services, gyms, and parks
Connections to places of personal enrichment such as schools, universities, and libraries
Connections to personal and group entertainment, such as museums, movie theaters, bars, and clubs
Connections to forms of transportation that fill in the gaps (BRT, bike or vehicle shares, pedestrianized areas)
A key factor in the continued success of a light rail system is the rider experience. Even if a route is connected well and can handle high ridership, if the rider experience is consistently negative, people are much less likely to use it. Major factors in rider experience can be measurable, such as frequency and speed, or more qualitative, such as accessibility and comfort.
In order to achieve our mobility goals our light rail system will need to be attractive and useful to both transit dependent and all purpose riders. So Rider Experience is of critical importance to the success of both Project Connect and Austin mobility as a whole.
It’s also important to note that certain indicators, like Route Frequency, are ridership multipliers. So we would get significantly more bang for our buck out of any expansions (or in the initial build) for a system with higher frequencies and similar indicators.
Expandability is how easy the system will be to expand from the completion of the first phase of the system. It’s a measure of the potential for the rail system to grow to accommodate more riders and lay track to complete the original vision of Project Connect in the future. Or better yet, become even bigger and better than the original Project Connect vision.
More critically, the initial rail options that have a line “forking” to Oltorf visiting South Congress will be easily expanded in the same way onto South Congress. These two options are:
Disruptiveness and flexibility of future expansions
Political feasibility of expanding in each direction after phase 1 is built
Good transit systems have priority for multiple modes of getting around, which includes pedestrianization. Pedestrianization is a priority for urbanists in its own right.
Since there are very few areas that are fully pedestrianized downtown currently, there’s a lot that can be gained by prioritizing good pedestrian spaces next to transit. This not only improves accessibility of transit, but creates great, memorable, public spaces.
In all of the options, the Drag has been mentioned as a candidate for pedestrianization.
Potential pedestrianized blocks for each scenario
Community Reach & Equity
A comprehensive transit system can connect people from all backgrounds to opportunities. Community Reach is a criterion for evaluating a light rail system based on the extent to which it serves different neighborhoods or districts within the city. Equity ensures that regions and people of all backgrounds have access to opportunities.
AURA has partnered with the University Democrats at UT Austin to send a joint letter to the Mayor and City Council calling for addressing student housing costs by expanding the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO) and increasing the supply of student housing. If your organization would like to sign onto this call to action, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the full text of the letter sent to Council:
Mayor Watson, Mayor Pro Tem Ellis, and City of Austin Council Members:
Students, like most Austinites, are adversely affected by our city’s lack of housing. Smart, young people across our state move to Austin to pursue higher education and participate in our vibrant culture. Once they arrive, many find that they spend an exorbitant amount of their income on housing, often having to maintain jobs on top of their academic responsibilities. Some must live far away from the campus at which they study. Housing costs are quickly becoming a huge barrier to getting an education in Austin. We pride ourselves on educating much of our state, yet our housing costs are turning away many working class students from seeking higher education, or forcing them to take on higher levels of debt. We can and should do better by this city’s college students.
In recognition of this problem, the City of Austin has created the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO) District in the West Campus area near the University of Texas. Within UNO, developers are allowed to build more student housing as long as they also provide high-quality pedestrian infrastructure and dedicate a percentage of the units as subsidized, or Affordable.
UNO has been a great success. It has allowed tens of thousands of students to live near the UT Campus. Rents in the overlay area have increased at a slower rate than in surrounding neighborhoods. It has created one of the most walkable, bikeable, and transit supportive areas in the entire city. UNO residents have lower car ownership and use alternative transportation more than most anywhere else in the city, helping Austin reach our climate and mode share goals. It has also produced a staggering percentage of the city’s affordable housing units, despite covering such a tiny area of the city.
Despite its success, the small amount of land we have designated as being within UNO is not enough to meet the housing demands of the University of Texas population, to say nothing of the growing student populations attending other colleges throughout our city. We must extend the benefits of UNO to more of the city’s students.
We request that the Austin City Council expand UNO to more areas that are appropriate for student housing. In particular, we suggest areas close to universities or community colleges, especially where there is already a concentration of students living but without the benefits of UNO. Examples of areas that we believe are ready for expansion of UNO include:
– Expanding Outer West Campus district westward to Leon Street
– Expanding Outer West Campus district westward to Salado below 29th and to San Pedro below that
– A new district bordered by Guadalupe to the West, 27th to the south, 31st to the north, and Duval to the East
– A new district around Red River, east of I-35, and north of Dean Keaton
Maps for the current and proposed UNO districts can be found at https://bit.ly/UNO-expansion. These zones are only meant as a starting point for discussion.
In addition, we would like the city council to look into ways to improve the existing districts to allow more students to have the advantages of UNO. An example of this might be raising height limits.
Finally, we would urge the City Council to initiate consideration of the expansion of UNO to other areas of Austin with existing college campuses, including but not limited to St. Edward’s University, Huston-Tillotson University, and all Austin Community College campuses. This will allow us to better serve the housing needs of all higher education students in Austin and retain our excellent reputation with younger Austinites as a place to live, learn and stay.
We appreciate your prompt attention to these requests and look forward to discussing these proposals in greater detail at your earliest convenience.
The City of Austin is seeking input from the community on the Austin Core Transportation (ACT) Plan. The survey is open until March 31 and asks about your preferences in allocating street space in Downtown Austin for protected bike lanes and transit-priority lanes. The survey also asks for your opinion on converting one-way streets to two-way.
On March 9, City Council will consider approving a plan to implement equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) around current and planned transit stops in Austin. ETOD aims to give Austinites of all income levels more access to housing, jobs, transit, and other amenities, and a quality ETOD implementation is crucial to the success of public transit in Austin.
How you can help
We need to send the message to City Hall that Austinites strongly support ETOD and want to see ETOD done right. You can help by contacting City Council Members via email or phone, and you can speak at the City Council meeting on March 9 in-person or by calling in.
You can also send an email to all of City Council at once using this form.
Speaking at the Council Meeting
City Council will meet on March 9th in Austin City Hall (301 W 2nd St, Austin, TX 78701) at 10:00 AM, which is when we’ll be making comments. Before discussing agenda items, Council will take comments from the public.
Respond “No” to “Are you a zoning applicant or zoning applicant’s representative?”
Under “Regular Meeting Agenda Item Number” select “016”
Respond “Yes” to “Do you wish to speak?”
Select “in-person” or “remote” (which is via phone call)
Fill in your name and contact info
Filling in the topic is optional, but you can mention that you are in favor of ETOD
Online registration closes at 12 PM the day before the meeting, and you can only register for remote speaking using online registration. In-person speakers can register at City Hall using the kiosks up until 9:15 AM on the day of the meeting.
Talking Points and Tips
Contacting or speaking to City Council doesn’t require you to be an expert or make polished comments, just share your thoughts, preferably in your own words
Mention that you support agenda item 16 to approve the ETOD plan
Austin voters overwhelmingly approved Project Connect, which included ETOD
The success of Project Connect, and transit in general, depends on good ETOD
We need to zone for significantly more density/height and more mixed-use development within walking and biking distance of transit
ETOD zones should have no minimum parking requirements
Hitting our climate and affordability goals depends on successful transit and ETOD
You can read the full Council meeting agenda and find more details about the ETOD policy plan resolution (item 16) here.