Consider alternatives to minimize traffic congestion

Larisa Manescu

Austin is frequently dubbed the epitome of an environmentally friendly city. In fact, our city ranks 10th, the highest among the four Texas cities on Popular Science’s list of America’s 50 greenest cities, which included raw data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide and criteria such as electricity, transportation and living and recycling.

But a recent report from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University depicts our green city as having the third worst traffic congestion in the nation. While the greenest cities list emphasizes the high quality of our air, the study suggests Austin suffers from heavy air pollution. The study uses the travel time index, which measures how much longer a journey during heavily-congested rush hour traffic takes compared to the same trip in free-flowing traffic. Over the past 28 years, this difference has increased from 8 percent longer in 1981 to 28 percent longer in 2010.

To put the issue into perspective, Austin’s rush-hour wait time is tied with bustling metropolitans such as New York City and San Francisco. The more time spent idling in traffic, the more fuel is burned. This excess fuel pollutes the atmosphere, impeding the city’s environmental progress made by bike-friendly routes and the provision of widespread public transportation.

As UT students and residents of Austin, the opportunities for lowering traffic congestion exist all around us. However, one’s chosen method of transportation is a ritualistic lifestyle choice. If a student is used to riding his bike or taking a bus, he’ll do so daily. On the other hand, students with available cars are accustomed to driving.

Although many students may prefer having their own vehicles, UT provides access to a variety of alternative transportation options that are far from inconvenient. Whether a student lives on- or off-campus, the paid agreements between Capital Metro and the UT shuttle system give UT students frequent and free rides to almost any desirable location.

For commuters from nearby cities, the Capital MetroRail is a useful, free service that runs from Leander to downtown Austin, making several stops along its 32-mile route. The only disadvantage is that it does not run during the evenings or on weekends, but there are plans for change within the next year, especially if the MetroRail experiences a significant increase in passengers.

The increasingly diversified options to get around the University, city and beyond decrease the substantial carbon footprint imposed by driving. For those who must drive, carpooling with their fellow students significantly divides our carbon footprint; five footprints can easily become one with a little coordination. This method of transportation is also economically beneficial, as the University incentivizes it by offering special carpool permits which reserve parking spaces and discount the permit price by $50 per person. Additionally, less money is spent on gas.

Some students prefer two wheels instead of four, and the increase in bikers in the West Campus area has motivated the construction of two-way bike lanes on Rio Grande Street, which will eventually run from Martin Luther King Blvd. to 29th Street. This advance in road infrastructure, lobbied for by students, is a prime example of city officials’ willingness to respond to the evolving options of alternative transportation.

Although we have a glaring problem in traffic congestion, which students have read about in the news or experienced firsthand on the city’s roads, Austin is not stagnant with respect to it. The city already possesses and continually develops reliable and affordable solutions to congestion. It is our responsibility to familiarize ourselves with the various options and take advantage of their accessibility. That doesn’t mean always sacrificing a car ride for a long, complex bus or bike route. Students, faculty and staff must create a fitting balance of transportation methods for their lifestyles. With this shift in paradigm, perhaps Austin can eventually scratch “third worst traffic congestion” from its reputation and embrace its progressive environmental image.

Manescu is an international relations and journalism freshman.

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Consider alternatives to reduce traffic congestion