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San Antonio’s Sprawl-Busting Transit Chief

11:02 AM EDT on August 11, 2011

What we are about to tell you would be awesome anywhere. But the fact that it is happening in Texas just makes it that much better.

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Keith Parker, new head of the San Antonio transit system, has been pushing streetcars and bus rapid transit. Good news, right? Well, it gets better. Parker is using money that would otherwise be used to develop unincorporated areas of the region -- sprawl money -- for the green transportation projects. So San Antonio is not only on track to get more transportation choices but less budget-busting and environment-sapping sprawl as well. Brilliant!

The Overhead Wire reports on how this Lone Star maverick, formerly of the Charlotte Area Transit System, is disrupting the prevailing development pattern.

For those of you not familiar with Texas land use issues, unincorporated areas generally have no zoning restrictions and very little subdivision restrictions. Regions like Houston have areas outside the city limits that form Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) to provide water and sewer infrastructure but ultimately they end up sucking a lot of transportation funding away from cities given their peripheral nature. To be fair, I grew up in a place that was once a MUD and then annexed by Houston. It was well planned for a burb but most of them are not master planned communities that end up with 65,000 people.

In planning school one year we had class t-shirts that said "In the ETJ, no one can hear you scream". The extra territorial jurisdiction is a part of the county which the city can't zone but can annex, meaning you're going to get the worst sprawl you've ever seen from those parts of the region. So with this [story] I was quite happy to hear that the county wasn't going to get sprawl generating funds and that it quite possibly could be used for a streetcar.

Keith Parker, we salute you!

Elsewhere on the Network today: Pedestrian Observations pauses to examine the progress of California high-speed rail efforts. Bike San Diego wonders, regardless of how courteously cyclists ride, if the city will ever make safe biking a priority. And Bike Portland reports that after last month's gentrification debate, bicycle planners are making an extra effort to examine conditions on the city's east side.

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