Forum calls for more bike-friendly city

Amy Thornton

Despite Austin’s reputation as a top bicycling destination, the city should improve its bicycling infrastructure, said representatives from bike organizations at a forum for Austin City Council candidates Monday.

The forum was a citywide collaboration of bicycling organizations including the League of Bicycling Voters and UT’s Orange Bike Project, and was designed to bring concerns of Austin cyclists to candidates running for Austin City Council. The league’s website claims this year’s forum will be a strong factor in determining the outcome of City Council elections in May.

“Our common goal is to get people on bikes and a number of barriers keep the people who want to ride from doing that,” said Tom Wald, executive director of the league. “Often times, implementing bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure comes down to making sure the common good is served, possibly at the expense of a couple people’s individual interests.”

About 75 people attended the forum, and the council attendees included incumbents Laura Morrison, Chris Riley and Randi Shade, as well as new candidates Kathie Tovo, Michael “Max” Nofziger and Kris Bailey.

“This is about health, as well as the character of the city that we want to be,” said Riley, who is an avid biker. “We could continue sprawling out, or we could have places that are more walkable and bikable and reflect the city’s personality.”

Cycling related to transportation choices in urban growth, the city’s strategic mobility plan, electric bicycles, respecting bicyclists on the street and addressing the limited resource of street space also drew conversation.

“We want to improve transportation for Austin,” said Desiree French, co-chairwoman of UT’s Orange Bike Project. “We’re looking at how bikes can limit the number of cars that are going to continue to travel and go into downtown, since they can’t expand downtown streets.”

A subcommittee of the UT Campus Environmental Center, the Orange Bike Project promotes bicycling on campus through checking out or lending bicycles for the semester, allowing students to make bicycling their primary mode of transportation.

“Austin is pretty bike-friendly, but there are a lot of drivers and nonbikers who don’t give the right of way,” said cyclist and chemical engineering senior Lauren Bissey. “They could improve the enforcement of the existing bike laws and repercussions for those who violate them.”