After a several year grassroots campaign by members of Bike Austin and Walk Austin, victory was achieved! The City of Austin (Texas) announced it will construct a two-way protected bicycle lane on the west side of the major bike thoroughfare from 38th Street to Foster Lane. From that point to 183, it will put in one-way bicycle lanes on each side of Shoal Creek Boulevard (SCB). This is an important win for bicyclists of all kinds who use the street, as well as for pedestrians. Because currently it’s a mess of weaving in and out of parked cars, which can be deadly. The details are below.
Protected Lanes Are Key
The City of Austin Transportation Department prepared various options for the redesign of the road including no change. In fact, 70% of residents living on SCB chose that option. Those who have more cars than their driveways allow did not want to give up parking on the sidewalks. But the Austin City Council, in its wisdom, considered the input of all road users, and took into account the greater vision of a more mobile city that many people in Austin demand. (Never mind that opponents forgot that bike and pedestrian facilities actually increase property values.)
Recently I cited a study showing that a painted line on the road actually is MORE dangerous for bicyclists than no lane at all. Most cyclists know this from personal experience of close calls of cars and trucks passing us within inches. So putting in barriers is crucially important for saving lives. And it’s not just bike lanes, it’s better sidewalks for pedestrians and even a crossing under a major intersection. So if this seems trivial, consider that it well may save lives. Not to mention it will get more people, especially kids, on their bikes.
Don’t Give Up the Fight
A Dude wasn’t involved in the campaign, working as I did with Bike Austin on two streets in the northeast area nearer to me. But I certainly use SCB as a thoroughfare for commuting as well as recreation. I attended a the recent presentation of the options and put in my two cents with the survey, though. Kudos and congratulations go to the mostly unknown committee members who kept this issue before the public, fellow bike riders and walkers, plus City staff and the public officials who backed it.
The lesson for me is that campaigns like this are long-term affairs. They’re not a time trial, they’re not even one mountain stage in the Tour de France. They are several Tours de France in a row – the proverbial marathon. That takes staying power, dedication, continuity, passion and more. It’s also important to have a vision. In this case, it’s the “Big Loop” — a connection of trails that allows one to circumnavigate the northern central part of the city over 31 miles.
Progress Takes Courage
Time will tell how this all goes. It will take a year to complete the work, but we should see changes begin soon. In the meantime, the significance of this success should not be discounted. Doing one project like this will make others easier. Pardon the pun, but it paves the way for future use of the 2016 Mobility Bonds. I was just one among many who helped promote the public funding of more of the Bicycle Master Plan through block-walking and petitioning and so on. But as the committee mentions, City Council Members Allison Alter and Leslie Pool deserve our thanks for seeing the vision, because they are likely to receive some criticism from residents.
Folks, the planet is in crisis. Climate change, global warming, melting of the ice caps, rise of the sea level, air pollution, water shortages, and the side effects of that are really serious and threaten life on earth. I’m just a lowly fathlete and one dude who doesn’t have a car and rides his bike to get around, often pretty slowly. But I do it as I’m able and part of why is that I’m doing my small part to help the planet. What if everyone who could did the same one day a month or more? Well, the effect would not be small, that is for sure.
So those of us who are not slaves to the killer car culture, and those allies who may drive a car but want the roads to be safe for everyone can take a moment to celebrate. We can be happy about our success, but we must also be mindful that we cannot rest on our laurels. People have died riding their bikes and walking, and more may also be injured or be killed by cars. So la lucha sigue — the struggle continues — until we make the whole city safer for ALL road users. That includes everyone, including car drivers, because every life matters.
See this link for a fact sheet about the design.
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