This past Thursday the City of Austin (Texas) Active Transportation Department had a gathering for interested citizens to come give their input about bike lanes. These roads are really the same, they just change names. After passing one highway, it becomes a six-lane death trap from hell, if you’re on a bicycle. As a cyclist who volunteered numerous times on a committee for just this cause, I was keen to go and see this project finally start to come to life. It’s always interesting to participate in the process of something that could save your own life and that of friends and neighbors. Isn’t that something every bike rider should get behind?
Although arriving late to the one-hour session, we were not kicked out right at 60 minutes. As usual, there were enlarged informational posters along with a long map on several tables. This showed the extent of the proposed project, and participants were encouraged to write their ideas on sticky notes to go on the map, ask questions, and take a digital survey.
A number of engineers and staff were there, Laura, Nathan, Mike being the familiar friendly faces. There were also several members of the North East Austin Texas Bicycle Group (NEATXBG) that I started but which hasn’t done much..so it was good to see Jason and Hector, the latter mostly there as part of the neighborhood transportation committee.
All of this may seem to be fairly dry and boring stuff. Where to put a cross walk? What kind of protected bike lanes should be used? How about reducing speed limits? Signage? Crosswalks? But these are all important safety considerations that can SAVE LIVES, so yeah, that’s about as important as things can get. Can I get an amen? Can I get an awomen too? Good. Because the argument used by car drivers that bike lanes are evil just disappears when you factor in human lives. But we have to show up and demand them.
The other part about showing up at these things is that over time, you get recognized, and that ain’t nothing. In fact, the coordinator made a comment to me along the lines of “This has been something you’ve been wanting for a long time.” And that is true. So I was amazed and grateful to find recently that bike lanes had already been installed on a section of north Dessau due to restriping. All they had to do was narrow the lanes, and there was suddenly room for bike lanes – it’s like magic! Why wasn’t done on another stretch of road last year was technical, but basically not long enough. Anyway, the next step is to get the lanes extended and really well protected so that people feel and actually are safe using them.
This project has a ways to go, and it could end up being very little or nothing if the car drivers and bike haters show up in force to comment saying they want no changes made. This is confusing because bike lanes are in the Bicycle Master Plan and funding is finally available through the Mobility Bonds that I helped advocate for. So we will see what the synthesis of the comments turns up.
Ultimately, it was very empowering to be able to tell people with the ability to make things happen how they should make improvements. I see bike lanes, despite their faults, as saving cyclists from injury and death, or at least reducing crashes. But there are other parts: Fix the potholes in the lanes before pouring gravel all over them. Sweep up the gravel after all that will be absorbed has been absorbed. Add signs to two-way (contraflow) bike lanes, so that people don’t get hit by car drivers who only look one way.
We shall see what comes to pass, but with any luck, and some concerted advocacy, we will have a nicer pathway. It will be nice for commuters, recreational, young, old, experienced riders and people new to bicycling. Also, it will be a faster and after way the new movie theater that’s opening. It will also be nice for the people driving who will have air that’s just a little less polluted, with shorter commute and healthier co-workers who have ditched the car or at least reduced using it. “La lucha sigue” as we say in Spanish. (“The struggle continues.”) And we also say, “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, one can”) and “The people, united, can never be defeated.”
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