New bus/bike lane on 5th Street

Cap Metro just made a nifty little announcement on its blog:

This week, a stretch of West 5th Street will debut a big change for Central Austin: a bus & bike-only lane that will speed transit service into downtown and encourage people to get out of their cars and onto the bus.

I wouldn’t call it a big change but I would call it progress. Cap Metro estimates that it will cut in half the time it takes for buses to get from MoPac to Lamar during rush hour (currently 7-10 mins). That’s definitely a big win for the high-frequency route 4, which travels along 5th.

It’s also worth pointing out how much of a difference bike infrastructure makes in this area. Let me take you on a brief ride down memory lane …

I used to bike this route to City Hall until a year-and-half ago, when I lived in a beautiful old garage apartment on Enfield Rd. I would bike down West Lynn to 5th Street. I particularly liked this last stretch of West Lynn –– it’s a one-way for cars but with a dedicated bike lane going in the opposite direction.

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Biking down 5th was fine. At least there was a bike lane. That bike lane disappears after Baylor, the last cross street before Lamar, however, and things start to get uncomfortable.

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Luckily, however, if you take a right onto sleepy Baylor you can go down to 3rd Street, the first part of which similarly is a one-way westbound for cars along with a dedicated bike lane going east.

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Then before you know it you’re in the Seaholm district, going across the recently-repaired pedestrian/bike bridge over Shoal Creek and onto protected bike lanes on 3rd Street downtown.

Nowadays, getting over to the bridge also gives you access to the Shoal Creek Trail, which allows you to go from the new Central Library all the way up to around 12th Street without interacting with traffic. That makes biking downtown a lot more attractive to a lot more people. In fact, just yesterday, after meeting somebody at the Tavern on Lamar & 15th, I raced down the Shoal Creek Trail to the library in what felt like a few moments. The alternative would have been a big headache, involving major interaction with traffic, stoplights, etc.

But I digress…we were talking about the bus/bike lane on 5th, right? So, ideally a street should have a dedicated transit lane and a dedicated bike lane. That’s useful to know, but not helpful to obsess over if you want to get anything done in this city.

Here’s how the National Association of City Transportation Officials describes bike/bus lanes:

The shared bus-bike lane is not a high-comfort bike facility, nor is it appropriate at very high bus volumes. However, buses and bicycles often compete for the same space near the curb. On streets without dedicated bicycle infrastructure, curbside bus lanes frequently attract bicycle traffic, prompting some cities to permit bicycles in bus lanes.

Shared bus-bike lanes can accommodate both modes at low speeds and moderate bus headways, where buses are discouraged from passing, and bicyclists pass buses only at stops. In appropriate conditions, bus-bike lanes are an option on streets where dedicated bus and separate high-comfort bicycle facilities cannot be provided.

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