During President Obama's visit to Austin during South by Southwest on March 11, Austinites saw something rare on the roads: an easy commute.
According to the Mayor Steve Adler's office, drivers on MoPac had a 60 percent reduction in travel time during peak times compared to an average Friday. Travel time was cut in half on U.S. 183 that day. The major downtown corridors, Cesar Chavez Street, Congress Avenue, Guadalupe Street, Lamar Street, Lavaca Street and South 1st Street, saw a 32 percent drop in traffic volume and 22 percent drop in travel time. All because the city encouraged people to work from home.
"It was the vision manifested," said Ruben Cantu, Executive Director of Austin+Social Good.
The organization helped coordinate the city-sponsored work from home day in 2013 and mobility week.
"We're thankful for the mayor because he's caught on to the idea and has continued to build on it," Cantu said.
Thursday morning, Adler will build on the idea yet again.
"This time we're simply asking people to avoid rush hour. Take a train, a bus, or a bike. Talk to your boss about changing your hours to avoid rush hour. Maybe work from home and come in at noon. You have a lot of options, and this time we have a lot of support. The message last time was to work from home. This time it's even easier: 'Austin, don't rush,'" Adler said in a press release.
"A cultural shift. That's really what it's going to take," Cantu said.
State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) is trying to help create that shift.
"It's getting really cramped in here and as we saw recently, there's over two million people in our region now which blows a lot of us away who have lived here a long time. And there's real consequences for that growth," Israel said.
Israel sponsored a bill in the last legislative session to allow many state employees to work from home. She said it wouldn't just have a positive impact in Austin, which has 60,000 state employees, but also cities because there is a total of 400,000 state employees across Texas.
"For those 60,000 state employees, a lot of whom live in my district and they live all, Buda, Kyle, Elgin, they're all trying to get into the urban core," Israel said. "If they can work safely and securely and productively from home, that's one more person that's not on I-35."
The bill passed, but the Governor vetoed it. If re-elected this November, Israel plans to revise and re-file it.