• Sidewalk, bike lane improvements necessary for multimodal transportation system

    Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle Executive Director, addresses Austin’s new Bike Share program outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. Austin’s $2 million bike sharing program opens Dec. 21. 
    Elliott McFadden, Austin B-Cycle Executive Director, addresses Austin’s new Bike Share program outside City Hall on Wednesday morning. Austin’s $2 million bike sharing program opens Dec. 21. 

    With the upcoming vote on Proposition 1, light rail and roadway improvements have been dominating the Austin transportation debate. But an important voice in the transportation conversation is missing. Sidewalks and bikeways are at the heart of a successful multimodal transportation system, and just by looking at the Austin Chronicle’s Sidewalk Fail! gallery, it is undeniable that this piece of the system is woefully inadequate.

    Though public transportation cannot realistically ferry every user to the doorstep of their destination, it can get them close. But any form of public transportation system is useless if people cannot safely access their destination from the given stops. The gallery’s interactive map shows a concentration of inadequate pedestrian walkways in Austin’s urban core, the heart of many public transportation activities and destinations.

    Pedestrians aside, sidewalks present a problem for bikers as well.  Austin has recently made several major improvements to bike-ability, most notably to students in tandem with the implementation of the Bus Rapid Transit system on Guadalupe, and for that it should be commended. But despite this improvement, the lack of bike lane between 27th and 29th streets puts bikers either on the road with college student drivers, a notoriously reckless bunch, or on the sidewalks dodging buckling concrete slabs and interfering with pedestrians.

    At the last City Council meeting on August 28, the proposed Urban Trails Master Plan, a network of off-street, paved shared-use paths aimed to connect the city while increasing safety, raised environmental concerns from neighborhood associations and ultimately, did not pass. Admittedly, the proposal for 12 feet wide concrete pathways does seem less like trails and more, as citizen Joseph Gilliland put it, like “mini roads.” Though the methods caused concern, the overwhelming public sentiment approved the intentions of the plan.  The Austin consciousness today is centered on macro transportation possibilities. But it is a partnership, and the macro roads and rails will not be used without improvement to the micro sidewalks and bikeways.

  • Students shouldn't look at "best" college rankings

    The start of the school year brings another wave of highly-esteemed magazines, newspapers and higher-education-focused organizations releasing their rankings of the "best" colleges in the U.S. These rankings vary greatly among different publications — U.S. News & World Report gave the University a ranking of "53rd national university" on Sept. 9, Washington Monthly ranked UT 20th in the world on Aug. 25, Forbes assigned UT the rank of 76th overall in July and the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings placed UT in the 33rd spot. Most rankings include a brief description of the methodology behind the number, which is great, but doesn't negate the fact that these rankings are attempts to encompass each of the "best" schools in a single number, an impossible feat.

    Placing a number on a school seems like a simple, consolidated way to determine its worth, but looking at college rankings can give someone a false sense of knowledge of how valuable the school is, causing the prospective student to form insignificant preconceived notions before considering other aspects of the school.

    Some of these ranking systems, such as that of Washington Monthly, include a whole host of data alongside a singular number for each university, which begs the question of why the publication even includes an overall ranking. The people who ranked the school might place much more weight on a particular data point of the school, such as average debt or prevalence of research opportunities, than a particular student would, which renders the numbers under the catch-all category of "top schools" or "best colleges" essentially meaningless.

    The Princeton Review almost, but not quite, refrains from ranking the "best" schools. It does publish a list of the top 379 schools, but doesn't number them from 1 to 379, and the rest of its rankings are based on student surveys about specific criteria, such as how religious students are, how often students study and how accessible professors are. Ranking systems should move toward the model of assigning numbers only to each aspect of a school and encourage students to compare numbers based on these students’ individual priorities rather than on an arbitrary judgment of the "overall best" school.

  • Latest Davis attack ad does not get voters on her side

    Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis makes a stop at the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen, Texas, Friday, Aug, 8 2014, to speak on the topic of domestic violence and the efforts she has made to help the victims of this crime. (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, Maricela Rodriguez)

 
    Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis makes a stop at the Family Crisis Center in Harlingen, Texas, Friday, Aug, 8 2014, to speak on the topic of domestic violence and the efforts she has made to help the victims of this crime. (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, Maricela Rodriguez)  

    In her latest attack ad, state Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, the Democratic candidate for governor, accused her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, of prolonging prosecution of sexual abuses occurring at West Texas State School, a juvenile detention center in Pyote, Texas. Keeping with the theme of “Greg Abbott, Insider General”, Davis’ campaign leaves out important facts once again. But the real issue is that ever since someone gave the Davis camp a video camera, the message never concentrates on the task on which Davis needs to focus in order to be victorious — attracting voters from the other side and galvanizing certain demographic groups that would statistically vote Democrat but don’t vote in high numbers.

    Just as she did in her ad criticizing Abbott’s dissent in a Texas Supreme Court case involving the compensation to a woman after she suffered a sexual assault by a salesman whom she had let into her home, Davis plays to the ignorance of the lay person who does not consider legal technicalities. The latest ad claims that despite requests for prosecution from a Texas Ranger, the Attorney General’s office waited 11 months before prosecuting those guilty of abuse; during that period, more allegations arose. Abbott’s campaign responded by saying that the Attorney General’s office must wait to receive a request for assistance from the local district attorney’s office before taking action. While I would agree that bureaucracy hampers government expediency and that red tape is an inherent problem in government, at the end of the thirty seconds, I’m still left wondering what the point of the ad is.

    As a Democrat vying for a statewide office, Davis has failed miserably to appeal to those who are the most participatory in Texas elections, and the state senator has not given those who typically don’t vote any reason to rush to the polls. Before releasing another ad, the Davis campaign needs to consider what is to be gained because I’d be willing to bet some money that the ad has not changed anyone’s mind, meaning no new recruits for Davis. The ad excellently reinforces the viewpoints of those already supporting Davis for governor. Good job. Those people weren’t voting for Abbott in the first place. Now, why should those who aren’t voting for the candidate, whether out of ideological differences or apathy, care?

    Davis is an associate editor.

     

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