Another Take on Austin’s Proposition A

Emma Freer wrote a good retrospective on Austin’s successful 2020 light rail election in Austonia:

Unlike other races this election cycle, the results weren’t close. Prop A passed by a nearly 19% margin, which local political analysts and transit advocates attributed to record-breaking turnout, a younger electorate and a new approach to transit planning.

The new approach to transit planning is described by Christof Spieler. First, don’t be coy. If you’re proposing transit, go all in for transit.

Conventional wisdom used to be that a transit referendum would be more likely to pass if it appealed to transit skeptics, said Christof Spieler, a senior lecturer at the Rice University School of Architecture.

This was often achieved by limiting the amount of funding and bundling in spending for different kinds of infrastructure.

Comparing the 2020 plan to 2014:

This time around, Capital Metro and city officials learned from past failures. Project Connect included more than seven times the investment and focused exclusively on transit, with two light rail lines, expanded bus service and other components.

Second, do the community outreach. Getting community groups involved and invested improved the plan, but it also included a bunch of activists who were influential in their communities.

Another key change, Spieler said, is the attention paid to advocacy groups and grassroots organizing.

Capital Metro reports that around 60,000 Austinites provided input on Project Connect, and advocates—some of whom opposed the last ballot measure because they felt it did too little—were more directly involved.

“Those advocacy groups were a major voice in the creation of the plan and then rally their supporters to turn out to vote for it,” Spieler said.

You could say that the 2014 plan died because of a bad map. But they developed a bad map because they studiously avoided involving any community groups. In the end, they had a bad map and no supporters.