In Austin, a Protected Bike Lane Built to Help Kids Get to School

The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Image: ##http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/what-if-bike-comfort-is-more-important-than-bike-safety## People for Bikes##

The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Photo: People for Bikes

What does it look like when a city gets serious about giving kids the freedom to get to school on their own? Austin, Texas, is showing people what’s possible with a protected bike lane that serves an elementary school.

With the help of the Green Lane Project, the capital of the Lone Star State has really been stepping up its bike infrastructure lately. The city has been looking for strategic places to add protected bike lanes whenever it has the opportunity, says Bike Austin Executive Director Tom Wald, whether it’s resurfacing a street or making some other physical or design change.

One of the more interesting protected bike lane projects in Austin is Bluebonnet Lane, which was redesigned in 2012 with a two-way bikeway separated from traffic with flexible posts. What’s especially notable about this piece of bike infrastructure is that it runs through a more residential area, as opposed to the typical highly-trafficked downtown thoroughfare.

Chad Crager, Austin’s bicycle program manager, says the project, the first of its kind in Austin, was planned in part to create a safe environment for children to bike to Zilker Elementary, located on the same street. And it’s working.

“The school and surrounding neighborhood have seen increases in bicycling since the protected bicycle lane was installed,” Crager said. “Bicycle counts at the school showed that before the facility was installed two kids rode to school and afterwards this number rose to 40.”

Zilker Principal Randall Thomson said at first some parents opposed the idea of the bike lane, which removed a lane of parking in front of the school. Some students use the district’s “voluntary transfer” program to attend the school from outside the immediate area, and their parents have to drive them. But since the bike lane was installed objections have dissipated, he says, and most parents see it as a positive amenity.

“Some of the children ride by themselves or in groups,” Thomson said. “It’s definitely used every day.”