Rachel Dovey | Next City

The blocklong stretch of downtown Jersey City’s main thoroughfare has been closed to cars and trucks from 3 p.m. until midnight on weekdays and throughout the weekend. Credit Piotr Redlinski for The New York TimesSchool funding, public safety, marijuana — the 2014 mayoral races bring a host of issues to the debate table. And as many cities struggle to redefine themselves with transit-oriented development, public transportation is one to watch. Here’s a roundup of campaigns influenced by high-profile public works projects. Come November, new leadership in Austin, Washington, D.C. and San Jose will determine the future of several light rail lines and, in the so-called “capitol of Silicon Valley,” a sprawling grid that needs to curb its dependence on cars.

AUSTIN

Austin’s contentious Prop 1 bundles $600 million to build a light rail line with $400 million for road improvements. The odd coupling is city council’s deliberate attempt to sweeten the pot for Austin-dwellers who don’t want a rail tax but worry about road congestion. A similar measure failed in 2000, getting a close 49.6 percent of the vote.

But the very city government that approved Prop 1 one stands to be shaken up by it in November. The ballot measure was the very first issue leveled at mayoral candidates at a forum on August 28th. Three candidates — Mike Martinez, Sheryl Cole and Steve Adler support it, while Randall Stevens and Todd Phelps do not. Their arguments mirror public debate: Phelps said rising property taxes would push Austin-dwellers out to the fringes where a city-center train won’t help them; Martinez argued that a strong public transportation network will actually boost affordability; Cole maintained that the city can’t simply build its way out of congestion.

As of early August, Adler had so far raised the most for his campaign, with current council members Martinez and Cole at second and third. Read more