17% of Austin residents feel safe biking

That’s according to the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan, which I was perusing alone on a Saturday night. The data is outdated, particularly for such a rapidly-growing city, but I’m not aware of any updated figures that are better.

In Austin, only 15 % of people on bicycles will ride in a painted bicycle lane on a busy road while 40 % of bicyclists would feel comfortable riding in a protected bicycle lane, but not a painted one.

I happily ride in the painted bike lane on South Lamar. It’s not exactly an experience that makes the brochure version of New Urbanism, but as long as there’s a designated part of the road that drivers understand is off-limits, I’m happy.

But when it comes to policy, people like me need to confront the reality that we’re not normal. The Bicycle Master Plan puts us into one of two categories:

The “Strong and the Fearless” will ride regardless of roadway conditions. They are ‘bicyclists;’ riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions. In Austin, this group accounts for 1 to 2 % of the population.

I don’t know if I’m quite in this category, particularly since I don’t believe that biking is a strong part of my identity. I got my bike on Craigslist for $120 and I’m still learning how to fix a flat.

If anything, I’m probably in the following category:

The “Enthused and Confident” are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities. They are attracted to riding on streets that have been redesigned to make them work well for bicycling. They appreciate bicycle lanes on busy streets. In Austin this group accounts for 15 % of the population, among which compose most of the cyclists who are supported by Austin’s current bicycle network

The Master Plan noted that if the city continued to rely “primarily” on painted bike lanes as bike infrastructure, few additional people would consider biking as a form of transportation. Only about 17% of the population would feel safe biking.

In contrast:

The data also demonstrates that if the City were able to implement an all ages and abilities bicycle network, using tools such as protected bicycle lanes and urban trails, then 55 to 60 % of the population would feel safe enough to bicycle on our roadways.

The Master Plan suggested it would cost $151 million to build such a network. The majority of that money ($93 million) would go towards expanding the city’s system of urban trails, offering more people ways to get around the city by bike with minimal interaction with vehicular traffic.

 

IMG_20160628_151511
Jen riding along Shoal Creek Trail, which is a great bike path…until it ends abruptly at 5th St with no connection to any kind of bike infrastructure.

 

Suffice it to say, we’ve still got a long way to go. The 2016 bond included $20 million for biking in the “Local Mobility” program as well as $37 million for urban trails. In addition, at least painted bike lanes will be added to the full length of all nine corridors targeted in the Corridor Construction Program, but it’s hard to know how much money that will represent. To be clear, we might actually end up getting a lot more money for urban trails via other sources, such as CAMPO, the state or the feds. In total, the city has applied for six grants that could total tens of millions of dollars.

It’s also worth noting that even under the best of circumstances, the city estimates that just over half of the population would feel comfortable biking. That’s an important point to make whenever the anti-bike crowd says, “Not EVERYBODY wants to bike.” No shit. That’s not the point. The point is to create opportunities for those who like biking to do so, thereby reducing their dependence on cars. That obviously helps them, but it also helps the largest group of people discussed in the Bicycle Master Plan:

The “No Way, No How” group is not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest. In Austin, this accounts for 39 to 44 % of the population. It is unlikely that this group will convert a substantial portion of their trips to bicycle trips and this is okay. Even this group receives substantial societal benefits from bicycle trips made by the other three groups.

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