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Austin’s infamous 1928 city plan called for creating a “negro district” east of East Avenue, today’s I-35.
“The solution of the race segregation problem will (be)… a negro district; and that all facilities and conveniences be provided… as an incentive to draw the negro population to this area.”
(1928 Austin city plan)
By 1940, this and other racist segregation policies, including redlining, had achieved their goals.
Play with the slider below and look out for more sliders as you go.
Then, in 1962, I-35 was built on East Avenue, further isolating communities of color from downtown and the west.
Before: East Avenue
I-35 wasn’t explicitly a racist tool. However, racism’s legacy made I-35 possible. Transportation planners took advantage of marginalized East Austin communities who couldn’t stop a highway being built next door.
Today, East Austin bears the brunt of I-35’s immense impacts: Constant noise, pollution, crashes, health impacts, and limited access to downtown and beyond.
Despite I-35’s role in racial inequity, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wants to spend $8 BILLION expanding I-35 through Austin to 18 lanes.
Expanding I-35 will have disastrous consequences.
Click on a section to find out more.
Congestion will get worse.
TxDOT has expanded highways for years, even though they know it doesn’t work. Widening highways worsens congestion by encouraging more driving, a phenomenon known as “induced demand”. When Houston’s Katy Freeway (pictured) was widened to 23 lanes, evening commutes got 19 minutes longer.
Austinites already spend over 100 hours a year stuck in traffic. With an expanded I-35, they’ll spend even more time behind the wheel.
Deaths and serious injuries will rise.
It’s impossible to describe the pain of suddenly, tragically losing a loved one. And yet, every year 25 percent of all traffic-related fatalities in Austin happen on I-35. Widening I-35 will increase vehicle speeds outside of rush hour, meaning more people will die and suffer life-changing injuries.
Pollution will increase.
Austin already gets an “F” from the American Lung Association for smog pollution and particulate pollution is worse than ever. And climate change presents a grave threat to humanity. Widening I-35 would make these crises much worse.
Taxes will go up.
Widening I-35 is projected to cost over $8 billion – a staggering figure that’s almost certain to rise if the project gets underway. Other increased costs – including higher long term maintenance, dealing with a growing number of crashes, and of course future highway expansions – will surely follow.
Texas will have to balance its books sooner or later, meaning higher taxes for us all.
“I can’t believe TxDOT is proposing another highway expansion, this time right through downtown Austin. We’re in the middle of a climate crisis and everyone’s sick of being stuck in traffic. It would be madness to widen I-35.”
Andrew, Austin resident
To dismantle Austin’s racist legacy we must dismantle I-35.
This would bring profound benefits, especially to marginalized communities.
A dangerous, polluted environment
A beautiful and popular place to go
(Play with the slider to compare I-35 today with the boulevard proposal)
No dedicated space for bicycles
No space for public transportation
12 travel lanes only for automobiles
People-moving capacity per hour: 56,000
Wide, tree-lined sidewalks
Protected bicycle lanes
Dedicated bus lanes and trains to San Antonio… and beyond!
A more sensible number of automobile lanes
People-moving capacity per hour: 118,000
Note: The boulevard shown here is a concept, not a proposed design. Depending on a public process, the final design will almost certainly change significantly.
Why a boulevard is the right choice for Austin
Click on a section to explore the benefits of a boulevard.
Getting around Austin will get quicker, safer, and more pleasant.
1. More transportation choice. 55% of Austinites wouldn’t drive if they had safe alternatives. A boulevard will give people the choice to walk, bicycle, or get public transportation.
2. Reaching destinations more quickly. People take less space when walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation. A boulevard with wider sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, and train lines will get more people more quickly to their destinations.
There will be enormous health and environmental benefits.
1. Cleaner air. Fewer cars means cleaner air and healthier lungs, especially for nearby communities.
2. Safer streets. Tree-lined sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and public transportation will offer safe ways to get around that weren’t possible before. This will save lives.
3. More active lifestyles. A boulevard will make walking and bicycling easier and more enjoyable than ever.
4. Positive climate change impacts. Transportation accounts for 36% of Austin’s carbon emissions. A boulevard will greatly increase the use of sustainable transportation and slash carbon emissions.
Gentrification and displacement will be addressed.
Many people see I-35 as a wall protecting eastern neighborhoods from gentrification. However, it’s unacceptable for nearby communities – especially children, the elderly, the poor, and people of color – to pay the price with respiratory illnesses, constant noise, and traffic crashes.
With the following measures, a boulevard will bring significant benefits into surrounding neighborhoods while preventing displacement. Let’s get this right.
1. Create affordable housing. A boulevard will open up land that I-35 previously consumed. A high percentage of new development along the boulevard should go to affordable housing and previously displaced households should have first right of refusal.
2. Divert new tax revenues to anti-displacement programs. New development will create significant new tax revenues. The City of Austin should allocate a portion of such income toward anti-displacement programs in neighboring communities.
3. Get input from local communities before any changes. Nearby communities should have the final say to ensure that a boulevard increases equity and prevents displacement.
Austin will become more beautiful and pleasant.
Imagine life with a boulevard. Happy families strolling past sidewalk cafes, neighbors catching up on the street, and local Austin businesses making us proud. This would be a stunning addition to downtown.
The community should help design the boulevard. A boulevard has the potential to be one of Texas’s most iconic places. The community should lead the task of setting the character of new development along the boulevard. The result will be a beautiful place that feels uniquely Austin.
If we replace a 12-lane highway with a boulevard, won’t it make it harder to get around? No. Here’s why.
Click on any section to find out more.
A boulevard will restore the street grid and allow other route options.
I-35 cuts off many streets, making it difficult to travel east-west and concentrating traffic on the highway because there are so few other ways to go. A boulevard will restore the street grid, reducing dependency on a single artery like I-35.
Large trucks will take other routes.
Truck drivers prefer highways, which are simpler to pass through, than boulevards. With a boulevard through central Austin, trucks would still have plenty of other suitable highways nearby to take.
Many people will happily stop driving and use alternatives.
A recent poll shows that over half of Austinites would prefer to get around in other ways other than driving. A boulevard would make walking, bicycling, and public transportation accessible, safe, and comfortable, greatly reducing car traffic.
Highway to boulevard conversions have worked every time
A growing number of cities, including San Francisco, Rochester, and Portland, have replaced their downtown highways. Many other cities are considering doing the same.
San Francisco before and after the Embarcadero Freeway was removed.
In fact, highway to boulevard groups are forming all over the country, including on the national level and in Dallas, Houston, El Paso, and now here in Austin.
(Yes, we love Portland’s “No More Freeway Expansions” logo too.)
“A highway to boulevard conversion is the solution to I-35. More of my friends and neighbors than ever agree: This is what we need.”
Jessica, Austin resident
The choice is ours
An expensive, polluting, dangerous, unpleasant highway expansion that makes congestion worse or a beautiful, safe boulevard with vibrant street life and transportation choice?
Let’s do the right thing.
Convincing TxDOT to replace I-35 with a boulevard will be an enormous task. Get involved and help make this happen.
Join our mailing list.
Add your business/organization name to our supporter list.
Donate to this campaign.
Join the organizing team.
To help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rethink35 was developed by various local residents who care about what happens to I-35. We’re purposefully presenting this idea as-is, free of attachment to any particular organization.
To find out more, contact Adam Greenfield at email@example.com.