According to Forbes, Texas’ capital city is the fastest growing metropolis in the United States. The place has become a major cultural destination, particularly with its annual juggernaut of a festival. With that growth comes added transportation needs to satiate the increases in population and tourism.
One local organization is doing its part by helping commuters better understand their transit options. Movability Austin is fueling growth and driving more people downtown by engaging the community’s needs and working closely with the city. Of course, “intelligent parking” is one area that Austin is excelling in.
Movability’s own Glenn Gadbois of was kind enough sit down with ParkMe to chat about his initiatives and his city. Here’s what he had to say.
Movability helps people understand the many choices for how they travel to, from and around downtown Austin. Our largest effort is working with employers and their employees to understand their challenges and their interests. Then we are basically a concierge helping them find and use options whether it is biking for exercise and health, transit for the safety and convenience of having someone else drive, or the social benefits of carpooling.
Helping someone avoid being stuck in traffic is also relieving a little bit of demand on the clogged roadway and, during rush hour, all the roads into downtown Austin are clogged. If we did nothing to address our traffic issues, Austin could not get more employees, customers or visitors downtown without turning rush hour into rush hours. I began working with the Downtown Austin Alliance and others to see if demand management could help. Things grew rather organically from that beginning.
Since you joined the organization, how have you seen the transit habits of Austinites change?
A majority of Austinites want relief from the traffic, high costs, and parking headaches of always having to drive. Especially, when something spikes like gas prices, you see significant shifts to transit, bicycling, etc.
But for most people figuring out what their options are and how to use them is still a daunting task. We also have a lot of new infrastructure to build if our roadways-as well as places to live, work or play-are to become as inviting for people as they are for cars.
The good news is use of transit, carpooling, and bicycling are all on the rise, even when compared to driving alone (which has declined slightly in the last few years). There is even more good news in that the Millenials, largest generational bubble since Boomers, are driving most of the growth in use of transportation options.
What type of local outreach is Movability Austin engaged in? Grassroots marketing? Paid campaigns?
Most of our marketing currently is “Individualized Marketing” and social media related. We have just begun to talk with potential partners in the public sector about larger scale (potentially including paid) marketing on safety and healthy communities. Co-marketing efforts with members (service providers such as Capital Metro, Car2Go and ZipCar; events such as Art City Austin, SxSW, etc) are in the very early stages. In addition, we are working with community organizations (Austin Cycling Association, Alliance for Public Transportation, Austin Trail Foundation) to initiate some light social engagement campaigns.
How have the city of Austin / Travis County been helping your efforts to improve people’s daily commutes?
CoA and Travis County are two of our four principal partners and funders. As two of downtown’s largest employers, they are both very committed to helping their employees find and use options. In addition, both have made a serious commitment to the partnerships, the investments and the building required to have a transportation system, which truly gives people viable travel choices. They see this as essential to the health and sustainability for downtown, the entire city and the region.
How do you think new startups/technology are helping with the current state of transportation?
Austin has its fair share of tech companies and we benefit greatly from the energy, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit that comes with tech companies. This alone makes a substantial portion of the businesses and their employees more open to try new solutions, including how they get to work.
Some start-ups, like ParkMe, are also providing a needed piece of the solution. Currently, most transportation customers are treated like kids at the breakfast table where mom plops one box of cereal on the table and that is the breakfast option. Any other option requires more skill to find what’s available and know how to cook the eggs, cut up fruit, etc. Mobile apps are beginning to load the breakfast table will all kinds of delicious options from peer to peer ride sharing, advanced identification of parking, and much more.
What’s behind the recent spike in pedestrian fatalities and how is the city addressing this issue?
No one knows why there is a spike. Austin has actually had a pretty low rate of pedestrian fatalities until this spike. The spike has gotten serious attention and that is a good thing. City Council instructed the City Manager to bring all related departments and stakeholders together in order to address safety issues including those of pedestrians. The initial summit will happen in September. There is already an emphasis on important outcomes: better integration between the many different groups; identification of short, medium and long-term strategies with an expectation of on-going commitment; and serious attention to quick action steps.
What do you attribute Austin’s recent surge in growth to? SXSW?
Austin is an attractive place to live and work as can be noted in the dozens of top ten rankings we get every year. People are more mobile these days, they are attracted to places growing jobs, and the Austin area has been doing that. It doesn’t hurt that housing prices are much lower in Austin than in other competitive metros in California, Washington or New York.
Most importantly, Austin did a better job of attracting people to live in its urban core than most other metro areas around the country. Austin’s commitment to urban redevelopment and growth is by no means on a smooth trajectory yet; but there is a serious commitment to attract growth into the urban areas where services are already available, where transit and walkability works best, and where economic development is most sustainable.
SxSW is a member of Movability and we are working directly with them, but I would probably say the same thing even if we had no relationship. SxSW is an amazing concept, company, and phenomenon. It may have started from Austin’s funky entrepreneurial spirit, but it has grown into a well-run enterprise that simply continues to identify new niches in which to expand their brand of community learning/sharing. Good ideas well executed just grow. But it isn’t just SxSW. ACL will likely expand to two weekends in the coming years. Formula 1 is predicted to fill hotels within 150-mile radius. And, we have more than one hundred and fifty events each year (that averages to three events each weekend of the year.
Talk about the addition of much needed new parking on Second Street. How much of an issue has parking become in your town?
There are three challenges for parking in Downtown Austin. Parking is located well through the downtown area, thus there may be sufficient parking, but people don’t know where it is. Parking management and pricing doesn’t match the public interests. And, because of the first two people have a perception that parking downtown is a hassle and keeps customers from coming downtown.
What’s your number one favorite thing to do on a perfect Austin weekend?
So many choices that each day can be a new favorite: I love swimming or just people watching at Barton Springs although I have gotten in the bad habit of working too much of late. Also, sitting outside at Shady Grove for lunch; I love shopping at both Wholefoods and Central Market as much for the social experience as the great food; Austin’s many options for outdoor movies; and of course the live music in this town is second to none.
Photo Courtesy of Knock Knock