Austin’s new wave of bike lanes

Austin Transportation Department has a new interactive map of ongoing transportation projects. The thing that excites me most about what I see is the increase in bike infrastructure underway. The blue lines on the map represent any bike projects that are in any phase of development in 2019. ATD spokesperson Emily Tuttle explained in an email:

Project development timeline for Bikeways projects vary. Most projects take between six months to two years from start to end, including feasibility analysis, design, public process and implementation. Depending on complexity and coordination dependencies, this process can sometimes take up to several years or happen as quickly as just a few months. Some project may not move forward depending on the results of public processes.

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Let’s take a look at what’s happening in my neighborhood: South Central Austin. It looks like ATD is considering some really significant improvements. I’d like to examine other neighborhoods in the future, so please send me any thoughts you have about bike infrastructure in your part of town.

Back to my neighborhood…The good news is that ATD is seeking to bolster what are already two bike-friendly roads in the area: South 5th St. and Bouldin Ave. These are two relatively calm, scenic streets that provide a much more pleasant experience than South 1st or S. Lamar for bike travel to/from downtown, even though they lack bike lanes.

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South 5th.

Both South 5th and Bouldin are targeted for some bike infrastructure, but it’s not clear what. Tuttle says South 5th is a “key bike route” and that before deciding what infrastructure to pursue, the city will “bring a public process forward to best understand how to improve this route for everyone.” The same is true for Bouldin, she says.

ATD is considering enhancements for Bluebonnet Ln., which already has a two-way protected bike lane. Says Tuttle: “Yes, we are looking at upgrading the existing physical protection as well as evaluating other possible improvements, such as crossings.”

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Bluebonnet Ln, near Zilker Elementary.

This is all great. I think it would make a lot of sense to put a protected bike lane on South 5th. We really should have protected lanes on South 1st and S. Lamar, but I can understand why that presents a logistical nightmare due to the large number of super-active commercial driveways. But if those two corridors are irreparably car-oriented, then it makes sense to choose a couple key bike-corridors.

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A protected lane on South 5th would provide a continuous high-quality bike path between downtown and Ben White. In fact, ATD envisions the route not only going the entire length of South 5th, which dead-ends at Cardinal Ln, but also shooting off onto Cumberland Rd, Raywood Dr and Garden Villa Ln to go past Ben White, after which it zig-zags on a few streets for a couple miles. The street grid starts to get very challenging at that point.

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The problem is that the further south you go, the worse the street grid becomes. There are dead-ends galore, making it very hard to get places without going on one of the main corridors: Lamar, Oltorf, South 1st or Ben White. Of those four, only Lamar has bike lanes. I endure 0.4 miles of Oltorf to get over to South 5th and it sucks. I am willing to take up a lane and force cars to pass me on the left, but many other bikers won’t.

Adding bike lanes to any of these roads, however, would have to come at the expense of a cherished car lane. That’s going to be tough.

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W. Oltorf, near S. 5th.

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