Austin, Texas Bike Lanes and Sidewalks: A Few Updates

This makes my 10th post with a title including the words “bike lanes.” I’m generally a fan of anything that will separate cars from bikes and pedestrians, or in other words, will save my tuchus and that of other riders from being maimed or killed by cars. As a walker (not of The Walking Dead zombie variety — so far), I often use sidewalks when there are any. I also used them instead of biking on high traffic roads, so I don’t, you know, like, die. Several emails from the City about mobility improvement projects are clogging my email inbox, and with two personal examples, I figure it’s time for an update. Here are just a few of the many projects for intersections, bike lanes and sidewalks going on in Austin, Texas.

Despite a bike lane, Burnet Road is not bike-friendly. I know this because my heart rate goes up more than usual when I ride it. The bike lane is unprotected, narrow, full of debris, and even weeds in some areas. Also, a bike rider who is very good at longer distances and high speeds I know, Brandon once remarked on Strava that even he was too scared to ride it. The sidewalk is choppy so I use it, but it’s scary.

Nor is it kind to pedestrians trying to cross it. Cars zoom up and down with little thought to vulnerable road users. With funding from the 2016 Mobility Bond (for which A Dude was proud to have advocated), this Death Alley is being made a little less deathly over the next few years. Here’s an image of four such improvements. As the report mentions, it adds a whopping 3/4 of a mile of sidewalks. Hey, it’s a start.

Other sections of Burnet Road are so bad they are choked with weeds, filled with glass, rocks and other debris, and are narrow and unprotected. I’ve just written the project coordinator, so maybe she will respond with some temporary solutions. New bike lanes and sidewalks are great, but this project will take another few years. In the meantime, it’s just not safe when you have to veer into traffic to avoid punctures and plant life. The City could do a lot better to maintain the existing lanes while building new ones.

Further up the road is a major intersection that passed a few times over the last couple of weeks. I was riding with semi-regular friend Rhodney (his biking, not his bowels!), and I took us by the new professional soccer team stadium, Austin FC . After leaving there, at Braker Lane and Burnet Road, I noticed the improvements right away.

Getting bikes off the street so cars turning right do not perform the deadly “right hook” is good thing. Better signage and more space are also good. It’s a phased project so it will be quite a while before it’s all done. Lives will be saved, so it’s worth the wait. The University of Texas at Austin J.J. Pickle Research Center is here. These fixes should get many cyclists and pedestrians out of one. A pickle, that is.

Another area of so-called improvement is one that I take exception to. It’s a pretty short lane on a short stretch of road near a school and a trail near Shoal Creek. Apparently community input was sought and the new design retains parking and allows two-way car traffic. The problem is the bike lane is two-way for both bike riders AND pedestrians — without any dividers! After getting this email, and an email from pretty, pretty good bike rider Alan, I went and checked it out again. I thought it was still being assembled, but no. Debating this on Next Door I’ve learned others aren’t big fans either. As I said, “When everyone is dissatisfied, that’s how you know it’s a successful City project.”

In this case, the best way to make the bike lane safe is ban parking or making it one way and diverting pedestrians, but there’s not a contiguous sidewalk. The shi-shi private religious school ought to cough up for a sidewalk, IMHO. Only if you live in Austin and preferably use this road and want to sound off, here’s the link to the survey.

The good news is that it’s a pilot project, so if enough people hate it, the City will modify it or I predict they’ll take it out. I think it’s unnecessary, although I’m always in favor of more safety for people on foot and bikes over the minor inconvenience of car drivers (of which I’m one now one again sometimes).

The North Lamar corridor parallels Burnet Road a mile or so east, and is possibly even a scarier road. In fact, a section of it is technically considered a highway. At two intersections that I traverse regularly, improvements are happening or have happened as part of the Vision Zero plan to have zero traffic deaths. Here’s a graphic for the intersection with West St. John:

The good things about this plan are again, like Burnet and Braker, the bicycle ramps. The widened sidewalks become mixed use pathways. Unlike the curious West 31st Street plan above, this is wide enough so pedestrians will know that cyclists will be using the space and vice versa. It’s technical but the basic idea is again reduce contact points between cars and everyone else. Traffic calming, a the new median, better signage and visibility, moving the bus stop up the road, and signalization, and all makes the intersection safer for everyone — including cars.

At the next light on Morrow is a bicycle crossing light. The previous “pork chop,” — a concrete island that was full of rocks and broken glass that apparently was well-hated — was removed. Again, the bike lane becomes a ramp up onto a widened sidewalk. A new sidewalk on the other side of Lamar allows people to bike or walk off the street. I suppose there are things I could critique about it, but so far haven’t noticed what they may be. So I call these wins, too.

Well, that’s enough for now; you get the idea. It all gets pretty wonky but in the end the point is to make things safer. There are plenty of other projects, some I’ve seen where stanchions and/or turtles (aka city titties) are added to protect the bike lane. Many I’ve not seen because I don’t tend to bike south of Town Lake very much. If you want to learn more about the City of Austin’s transportation improvements, you can check their website, sign up for their main newsletter and also from the various projects, look at the maps of projects (not just transpo), and so on. Overall, we could do a lot worse, but we could also do better. At least the wheels are in motion!

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14 thoughts on “Austin, Texas Bike Lanes and Sidewalks: A Few Updates

  1. Colorado Springs, is “trying” like Austin is when it comes to bike structure but we too have lot’s of fails!! Like the Austin Bluffs Bike Lane on a 4 lane insanely busy road, no way we’d ride on it. We’ve been getting a lot of these “weird hwy. interchanges” where they just “thrown in a bike land and your riding shoulder to shoulder with trucks, semis, etc. it’s like being surrounded by a sea of traffic!!! Some times you really wonder where these engineers and designers heads are at!! Our major problem is “connectivity” we’ve many urban trails but you have to get off on busy side streets and fight your way over to the next urban trail, it’s a RPIA!! Hope they manage to get more “expedient” in the years to come!! LOL, I’m 65 I may be long gone before it’s a actual working system! 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hey there – the city titties sound like s helpful thing for bike lanes
    and this boost reminded me that many cities could benefit from making bike lanes abundant and safe! this is serious because if we want humans healthier – one simple (yet powerful) thing is to promote biking and have safe options for those that want to get the pedals moving

    Liked by 1 person

      1. and by the way – I just got a new bike. Nothing expensive but something for some easy trail rides with the hubs. Any tips on the type of helmet I should get? Only plan on a short ride or two a week.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nice, congrats! A helmet that fits very well is important. Too big or small and it won’t cushion your brain in event of a fall. You can size one at a bike shop.

        There are some with more advanced technology, like MIPS, that may do better of you crash. Depends on how good a cyclist You are, likelihood of crashing i.e. bad traffic or calmer trails like you mention, if you’re doing mountain biking or taking it off some sweet jumps like Napoleon Dynamite.

        Also it depends on your budget and how much you like your brain! Defensive safe cycling is best too. Don’t let the helmet make your! take more chances. Happy riding!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. thanks for the tips – seriously – there was some good stuff in that comment – you should make a post with helmet tips?

        also, you tuned into my situation exactly – because very mild trans for me – especially as ease into just getting used to being on a bike –
        and I like the point about defensive biking – I am pretty conservative in most things and truly will not do “sweet jumps like Napoleon Dynamite” – hahah
        but I am excited for the health benefits – the physical and mental

        Liked by 1 person

      4. thanks – I am going to check out the post now (and I almost asked if you had a post – for some reason thought you might)
        oh and we are in Virginia – east coast of USA

        Liked by 1 person

      5. hahah – I just meant we as the family.
        but you are right – the slogan for Virginia has been that lovers quote for a while.
        we have “LOVE” signs all around the state and some folks try and take photos of them all. This state is also noted for its spiders (University of Richmond callas their sprits team the spiders) but I guess we have more spiders here than most states do.
        and what about you – have you lived in awesome Austin all your life?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Larger cities take some time to get it right. They usually, in the end, do a good job designing bike lanes and such. Brandon doesn’t ride at all any more. He once told me that many who ride like him eventually hate their bikes. His whole team, “Tilt” has given up riding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not even for fun? That’s really burning out big time. I’m burning a slow fuse, not all matches like those racers. That’s too bad. Maybe he can commute or do it for fun like a normal person. At least to get some exercise.


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