So I’ve written about why I support Proposition 1 here, here and here – the $1 billion light rail and road bond package being voted on here in Austin this upcoming election. I’ve touched on issues ranging from why we should make a different decision than voters did in 2000 to why it’s ridiculous to buy into the argument of traffic getting worse by giving drivers another alternative.
I’m confident Austin voters will do the right thing and vote for Prop 1, but today I want to assume Prop 1 loses and talk a little bit about what’s going to happen if it somehow doesn’t pass.
If Prop 1 loses, here are the top 5 things you can expect to happen:
1. Super conservative Tea Party members will rejoice. (See the Koch Brothers’ investment in trying to prevent Prop 1 from passing.) These folks are fiscal conservatives and social conservatives mixed together who think light rail is a path to the rest of Texas turning blue and voting people like Wendy Davis into office and making abortion as easy as going to CVS or Walgreen’s. Anything that looks like urbanism scares these people, and light rail is certainly one of them.
2. A large percentage (but not all) of Austinites over the age of 50 will be pleased. See Peter Zandan’s research on the great divide between many older and younger residents in Austin. These folks are either very wealthy and have fancy cars they’d prefer to drive, have already retired and don’t know anything about traffic because they don’t work much or worry about avoiding drunk drivers at night or, equally likely, they are on extremely fixed incomes and don’t want the <$20/mo. property tax increase for the average Austin home. That last one is a very legit issue, but ultimately we have to vote for our future IMHO.
3. Transit wonks and so-called experts will cheer with an “I told you so” kind of undertone. These folks think the only reason Prop 1 is on the ballot is because of the influence of politicians rather than researchers and too little public input into the light rail route itself. The problem is, all the solutions they care to offer are viable transportation solutions, but not viable political solutions meaning they will never come to pass because they won't have broad enough support for their recommendations. They don't want middle ground, it's their way or the highway...literally.
4. Anti-rail, anti-growth proponents will think people will stop moving to Austin since we aren’t building a transit system to support them. These people obviously missed the same argument ("if we don't build it, they won't come") made by Max Nofziger in 2000, which didn’t actually result in a decline in population growth. Look at what happened with I-35...we didn't plan ahead and now we've been playing catchup for decades. We're headed in that direction with light rail, too.
5. None of these people will ever agree on what to do when it comes to Austin’s traffic congestion problem despite the fact that it’s a 100% guarantee that the problem will be worse in three years when we vote for mayor/city council again and much much worse in 2020 when we vote for the Presidency, the only upcoming election that’s likely to attract as many voters as this upcoming election when Austinites elect a new Governor of Texas, Mayor of Austin and 10 City Council members.
If you’re of the mind that you want more public input - as the transit wonks suggest - into deciding Austin’s transit future, then there’s almost no way you can support voting on any type of transit bond in Austin until at least 2020.
If you’re of the mind that we should support a better light rail route – perhaps along Guadalupe-Lamar, also a topic amongst the transit wonk set – then you clearly are not familiar with the large base of voters on the West Side of Austin who are not going to want this construction and system in their backyard. Face facts.
If you’re of the mind that you’re ever going to get a fiscal or social conservative to support light rail construction in Austin, ever, you’re fooling yourself.
If you’re of the mind that not voting for Prop 1 in 2014 is going to put Austin in a better position to address traffic congestion, accessibility, affordability, connectivity and growth in Austin, you’re just being naïve.
There’s a reason why Prop 1 has so much widespread support including all three major Mayoral candidates – Steve Adler, Sheryl Cole and Mike Martinez - the most progressive City Council member in Austin, Chris Riley, leaders in the business, creative and technology community including the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Austin Music People, and CEOs like Dan Graham (buildasign.com) and Tyson Tuttle (Silicon Labs).
The reason is COMMON SENSE.
Every person is free to vote against Prop 1, but please also accept the fact that in doing so you're also voting against the conscious of Austin (our leaders and residents) in order to vote for your own financial or social interest because you don’t want your taxes to increase more than you want Austin to fix it’s growing traffic problem or you don’t want to support this light rail route because you have some grand idea for where the light rail route should be despite the fact that ZERO people who follow Austin politics (and not just transit) believe other route options would have broad enough voter support to get passed.
This isn't quite one of those "you're either with us or against us" moments because we truly are all in this together - whether you vote for Prop 1 or not - but I do believe those of us who plan to support Prop 1 are more clearly in it for the future of Austin. An Austin we'd all love to live in.