Next Steps for the St. Johns Bikeway in Austin, Texas

Last month your faithful cyclist and semi-regular bicycle activist (moi) attended a City of Austin open house. Today they sent out a follow-up notice, and I’m sharing it with you. It has some interesting approaches to making this street safer, but they aren’t a done deal yet. We have to make sure Austin doesn’t give up and cede the road back to cars. Even if you don’t live here, you might find the way they (we) do things here to improve safety for walkers and bicyclists interesting.

Sorry, with coronavirus rearing its ugly head, even leading to the cancellation of South by Southwest for the first time in its 34-year history, I should say pedestrians. Walkers are what the survivors call the zombies in The Walking Dead. I didn’t get any good shifts and was going to sit out SXSW anyway, but I have mixed feelings about it. That’s because there are 0 reported cases in Austin. Well, let’s just hope there are more of us in The Cycling Alive group when it’s all over.

Proposed Changes to a Busy Boulevard

St. John’s Boulevard (of broken dreams… and glass!) crosses interstate highway. And though it has painted bike lanes, it’s still not a fun street to ride on. Cars tend to speed, there are buses, people jaywalking, hills and debris in the bike lanes. From the City’s website for this project, they are planning on:

  • Upgrading existing painted bicycle lanes to protected bicycle lanes… remove the center turn lane in sections with lower turn volumes to create space for the protected bicycle lanes… keep the center turn lane where higher turn volumes exist.
  • Adding parking restriction signs to prevent parking in bicycle lanes.
  • Improvements to pedestrian crossings along St. Johns Avenue various cross streets (crosswalk lights and signs).
  • Consolidation of bus stops to improve transit operations, locating stops closer to proposed pedestrian crossings.
  • Connection to future improvements at the St. Johns Avenue and North Lamar Boulevard intersection as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond (which yours truly advocated for as a volunteer with Bike Austin.
copyright City of Austin Transportation Department

Whose Streets? Our Bike Streets!

The cool thing for me about this street is that I used to commute to work across it, for a number of years, actually. It was four lanes for cars only, no bike lanes at all. Then one day, the painted bike lanes began to appear. Car lanes went down to one, except for turning. I didn’t notice any huge traffic jams from that, and boy, I tell you. I was like Kramer from Seinfeld in that episode where he paints over the breakdown lane and drives in luxury in the nice, new wide lane. I felt MUCH safer, as I’m sure did the parents of any kids biking to school. Not that any did except on the sidewalk; it’s still dangerous. So protected lanes will help more people feel more comfortable about cycling. More cycling means less traffic, less pollution, more health and more fun.

copyright City of Austin Transportation Department

We shall see how people respond to these plans, if the bike haters and trolls speak out in force (haters gonna hate, shake it off), and what the final plans really are. Whatever the City does is likely to be an improvement over how things are now. Paint doesn’t really stop people from veering into the bike lane. The comments I added were about maintenance, signage, and the fact that plastic polls and concrete bumps are not sufficient protection — especially after they get knocked down. I’m hopeful as the bond money gets spent we will see a more connected city that makes biking a viable option for more people currently too afraid to ride on main streets.

If you live in Austin, check out the website and send in your comments AustinTexas.gov/StJohns-Bikeway!

St. John’s plans with citizen comments, including mine.

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