Disclosure: Project Connect is a sponsor of KUT.
Update: Project Connect has issued a new flyer. Scroll to the bottom of this post to read it.
Original story: If you were out and about in Austin this weekend, you may have met someone from the outreach team of Project Connect, a multi-agency group working on mass transit options for the region. In an effort to promote a series of meetings regarding an urban rail proposal that will likely end up before voters this fall, the outreach team was passing out flyers showing the proposed first rail line in Hyde Park. But those flyers don’t accurately show what that proposed line is, and now one neighborhood advocate is accusing Project Connect of misleading the public.
A few hundred Austinites got a flyer (above) from a Project Connect outreach team this weekend showing its overall long-term transit vision for the city. At the bottom right corner of the flyer, a big orange bubble screams, “Let’s Get Moving!” The flyer shows rail to the airport, rail along the major corridors of Lamar and Congress, and along the MoPac freeway. In essence, rail lines that have the potential to replace lots of cars on the road. The map is titled "Proposed First Line of Urban Rail." There is no legend indicating what the various routes depicted are.
But if you were to actually pass out an accurate map of the proposed first line that voters may decide on this fall – which in its latest iteration would run along East Riverside, through downtown and tunneling under and then paralleling a portion of the existing MetroRail line up to Highland Mall – it would actually look very different.
This, in fact, is the most recent map of the proposed rail line from Project Connect (left). The overall map of the long-term vision handed out over the weekend titled "Proposed First Line of Urban Rail" doesn’t even show the latest iteration of that first line, which goes to Highland Mall. So why not use the most recent rail map for the proposed first line, instead of an outdated map of Project Connect’s overall vision?
“Well, the proposed first line of the urban rail definitely fits into the Project Connect system,” says Capital Metro communications specialist John Julitz, who works on Project Connect. Julitz says the public is curious to know how the proposed first line of urban rail would fit into the larger system envisioned by Project Connect, so they used an existing map of their overall vision that has been out for over a year, but titled it "Proposed First Line of Urban Rail."
Using this flyer in their outreach efforts over the weekend served an “educational purpose,” Julitz says, so that the outreach teams canvassing neighborhoods could explain how the urban rail line would fit into a larger transportation system. Booths were also set up at the downtown farmers market over the weekend, and an open house was held at Parque Zaragoza Park. (In a later statement, which you can read below, Project Connect says the purpose of flyer was not educational.)
But the talking points and guidance given to those canvassers say nothing about the proposed first line, or how it would integrate into something bigger. It focuses instead on gauging locals knowledge of Project Connect, and encouraging them to attend their open houses that will be held across town in the coming weeks, listed on the back of the flyer. Read those talking points here.
“It was unfortunate that they [Project Connect] were distributing a map that was completely misleading,” says Scott Morris. Morris heads the Central Austin Community Development Corporation, a group focused on public safety and bridging the interests of students and residents in the neighborhood.
Morris heard from neighbors in Hyde Park who were contacted by the canvassers over the weekend, and went out to meet some himself. They told him they were working for a firm hired by Project Connect. (Update: Project Connect says nearly $20,000 is being spent for ten weeks of "block walking" services, contracting Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing to hire and train the temprorary workers.)
The map Project Connect was using shows transportation options not under consideration at this time, Morris says, like rail to the airport and to the Mueller Development. He fears Project Connect may have been trying to mislead residents in Central Austin into thinking that the proposed first line of urban rail would go down Guadalupe and North Lamar streets (which he and representatives of other neighborhood and student groups support) instead of along Red River Street and Airport Boulevard (which they do not).
Project Connect's Julitz downplayed Morris’ concerns about the flyer, saying they’re just the allegations of “one guy who’s upset that we’re not going down Guadalupe and Lamar” with the proposed first line of urban rail.
Project Connect concedes the flyers could have been more clear: “While we believe the flyer distributed this weekend is factual, this informational piece could be more clear in its presentation and we’ll take greater care in the future to avoid confusion,” Project Connect says in a statement. “The goal of the flyer was to inform the community about upcoming events, not to educate about the proposed first line of Urban Rail. Approximately 200 households received this flyer, and they will receive the updated flyers which include the updated system map, once it is available.”
“I think if it’s their intention to inform the public and seek input on the current rail alignment, then they need to do so with accurate information,” Morris says, “not information that’s going to confuse, and in the case of our [Hyde Park] community, add to the level of anger that’s already present."
The Urban Transportation Commission will meet tonight at City Hall to get an update on the Project Connect rail proposal. The Austin City Council is expected to call for a funding vote on urban rail in August.
Update: Project Connect quickly put together a new flyer (below). They say those who received the original inaccurate map will get a copy of this new flyer.