Austin Is Starting a Three-Year Plan to Fight Congestion With Bikes

Map: City of Austin
Map: City of Austin

Central Austin seems to have everything: a massive research university, the world’s biggest annual media festival and one of the country’s strongest local job-creation engines.

But when a city sees so much success, it runs short of something else: space.

Austin is filling up. Its freeways and arterials are packed with cars.

“Even globally, no city has solved their transportation challenges by the car alone, and Austin is no different,” says Laura Dierenfield, the city’s active transportation manager.

So for years, the Texas capital city has been working on a solution: street by street, major repaving projects have striped bike lanes alongside each curb. On a map, that’s given the city’s biking network the appearance of so many pick-up sticks:

But from the street, it’s clear that many of those bike lanes are hardly appealing to riders of all ages.

In the 25-square-mile area surrounding the city center, the city estimates, only about one in 20 working residents currently commutes by bike.

In the next three years, Austin is setting out to double that rate, putting thousands more bikes on its central streets each day. Their plan: to simultaneously close the gaps in the city’s biking network and to add simple physical barriers — Austin has been working for years to develop one — to more clearly separate bike and car traffic.

“There’s a fair amount of really good routes that aren’t very cohesive in the area,” said transportation planner and street designer Nathan Wilkes. “The strategy for us is: How can we super-quickly mend that together into a network?”

Last year, the city bought two narrow Tennant Sentinel bike-lane sweepers to regularly clear debris from protected bike lanes. And in November, voters gave the city a huge influx of cash: a $720 million bond measure that included $70 million for bike-related projects.

The ultimate goal: convert 7 percent of central-city trips from car to bike, adding as much new capacity to the city’s road system as a freeway expansion while also reducing transportation costs for thousands of lower-income households.

The project schedule isn’t worked out yet, and neither is any particular street’s design. But armed with everything it needs for change, Austin is about to go to work improving biking in its central city in a way it never has before. If it’s successful, the whole metro area will benefit.

“It’s not about what we can do for bicycling, but about what bicycling can do for us,” Dierenfield said. “The more trips we can convert to bicycling, the more reliable the entire transportation system becomes for everyone.”

This is the second in a series of profiles of the 10 focus areas in the PeopleForBikes Big Jump Project — districts that are planning to quickly install some of the country’s first fully connected all-ages biking networks over the next three years.

PlacesForBikes is a PeopleForBikes program to help U.S. communities build better biking, faster. You can follow them on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for their weekly news digest about building all-ages biking networks.

  • Alejandro Sangiovanni

    Looks like a good transit problem for URB-E to solve. http://www.urb-e.com giving test rides at the W Hotel during SXSW!!

  • thielges

    Isn’t Austin’s core problem just plain old sprawl? Austin is following in the footsteps of Dallas and Houston without the high capacity urban freeway system. Reign in sprawl and much of these issues fade away. Easier said than done though.

  • Vooch

    NYC PBLs cost $500k per mile.

    A $70 million bike budget in Austin should build 140 miles of PBLs. 140 miles is a true network.

  • Rudolf Kolaja

    Make all of these bike lanes “managed lanes”, and have the users pay their real cost of travel, if there are so many excited bike riders ready to bike. To me, this is another example of incredible mismanagement of the transportation funding.

  • Vooch

    Agreed – we should eliminate all trandportation subsidies.

    Instead of using property taxes to fund Austin’s streets we should implement user fees and tolls to account for how much space each mode requires, how much maintence, and negative externalities such as killing & maiming plus deaths from pollutants.

    As you may know, cars take up about 10 times the road space of cyclists, plus require 20 times the storage space.

    Some rough figures which would be fair:

    Austin Cyclists would pay about 1/2 cent per mile. That works out to between $25 & $100 for a annual pass.

    Austin Drivers of small cars ( say under 3,000 lbs) would pay about 75 cents per mile

    Austin Drivers of bigger vehicles ( say above 3,000 lbs ) would pay about $1.00/mile

    Austin Drivers of heavier vehicles ( say from 3,000 to 9,000 lbs ) might need to pay $1.50/mile to cover the cost of their driving.

    It might be too difficult to charge pedestrians a per mile toll, so let’s agree to let pedestrians walk for free.

    while we are at it; shouldn’t we require car passengers and drivers to wear helmets ?

    Driving is a insanely dangerous activity. Last year, 40,000 Americans were killed by driving. Helmets inside cars would go a long way towards reducing that death rate.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/026ca84ba0a9e382fe225da7532ad59c29840f2eabb7cd296ef64123f85d4226.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8717fa3bc2390464a9d1bae37520f5ad81ffdb9232ab884dad5981a7b7806bdb.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/99fadaf88233f8563217c85434d85db514907833c4162a278c7106ccd748d1b4.png

  • Rudolf Kolaja

    I think that you missed my point due to my fault though. The way the bicycling is being promoted and facilitated is the economic disasters. Look at the thousands of mile of bike lanes never really used at all, or by only couple of bike riders a day. I am not for any user fees at all. Driving public is paying a way to much already for the incredible mismanagement of the transportation systems design in this country. I wrote about these subjects so much in the past, and lost my patience to continue to do so. Effective transit is the answer, which means different things to different people.

  • Rudolf Kolaja

    I think that you missed my point due to my fault though. The way the bicycling is being promoted and facilitated is the economic disasters. Look at the thousands of miles of bike lanes never really used at all, or by only couple of bike riders a day. I am not for any user fees at all. Driving public is paying a way to much already for the incredible mismanagement of the transportation systems design in this country. I wrote about these subjects so much in the past, and lost my patience to continue to do so. Effective transit is the answer, which means different things to different people.

  • Vooch

    Fact – Mass Motoring is lavishly subsidized. Drivers pay a fraction of the costs of driving through user fees.

    Fact – Thousands of cyclists per day may use a bike lane may use a bike lane and drivers might perceive its ’empty’ all the time. Bikes are small & efficient machines. Drivers are used to observing the hulking monsters of motor vehicles each taking more than 10 times the space of 1 cyclist. Drivers don’t understand the simple math of the attached photo.

    Fact – bikes and protected bike lanes are economic benefit. Cyclists spend more money shopping than drivers. PBLs cost pennies relative to motor lanes. Cyclists do not require vast acreage to store their machines. Each registered private car typically requires at least 1,200 sqft of storage space ( 400 at home, 400 at work, 400 at the mall ). Private Cars destroy the pavement. Cyclists do not. Private Cars killed 40,000 Americans last year. Cyclists 8.

    au contraire – my dear friend it is mass motoring which is a economic disaster of unoararelled scope.

    The sooner we eliminate subsidies for driving the sooner America will return to prosperity.,

  • Vooch

    What would happen to your business model if you had to pay the full cost of your driving ?

    your business model rests on lavish taxpayer subsidies which are ending.

    plug that into your VCs DCF model.

    Down Round to zero

  • Rudolf Kolaja

    I do not feel like arguing with you, sir. I value my time more than that. I was in the transportation profession more than 55 years. I hope you are enjoying the bicycling all year around, in the snow, heavy rain, freezing temperatures, dust storm, and heat. You need to be required to pay a great portion of the $500 thousand/per mile of bike lanes; that is what you stated.

  • Vooch

    55 years ?

    soyou are one of the ‘experts’ whose genius results in 40,000 dead Americans every year.

    experts of your sort destroyed our cities with blight

    experts of your sort caused untold havoc and misery by their deeds.

    experts of your sort robbed millions of their homes and livelihoods in arrogant sociopathic frenzied highway building.

    for shame

  • Novacek

    A small clarification, I believe $70M was the number for bike/pedestrian.

  • Novacek

    Real cost of travel?

    Okay, prepare to pay me to bike then. Biking is an overall net gain for both public health and air quality.

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