City Council to look at city bicycle plan

Jackie Wang

On Guadalupe Street, bikers can stay in a protected lane off to the side and clearly marked with bright green paint. The lane stretches from Martin Luther King Boulevard to 24th Street. But after that, the bike lane is combined with a bus lane.

“When it comes to a street like Lamar or Guadalupe, you really need something from the car traffic,” said Chris Riley, Austin City Council member. “Many people would not be comfortable being on a bike in heavily traveled streets like that. The vision is to provide a network so that someone setting out to bike could actually get to each of their destinations without being exposed to conflicts with car traffic.”

The “vision” that Riley, who is also a cyclist, referred to is the Bicycle Master Plan, which the City Council plans to discuss Thursday. Along with the main goal of creating a better bicycle network, the plan lists the city’s achievements in bicycle transportation since 2009, including expanding Austin’s bicycle network from 126 miles to 210 miles — a 70 percent expansion in only five years.

Garret Nick, chair of the board of directors for the nonprofit Please BE KIND To Cyclists organization, said he arrived in Austin 14 years ago and continued to ride his bicycle regularly after his move.

“I’m pretty familiar with getting around, but in the town I grew up in Louisiana, there isn’t any bike infrastructure,” Nick said. “It was just neighborhood streets and sidewalks. Coming to Austin, the situation is better than other towns, but there is room for improvement.”

Carol Reifsnyder, Bike Austin’s interim executive director, said she agreed with the emphasis on improving bicycle infrastructure.

“We support the city agency, and one of the aspects of cycling advocacy in general is infrastructure,” Reifsnyder said. “It’s critical to what we do in trying to get people to use a bike.”

Riley said one of the goals under the Bicycle Master Plan is to increase bicycle ridership.

“Instead of having a small number of confident riders, we would reach out to the many people who are interested in biking but are concerned about their safety,” Riley said. “The latest data we had was that some 55 percent of people are in that category of people. The hope is that, with the right facilities, we can encourage a lot more people to try biking as a way of getting around town.”

In order to increase ridership, Riley said the city needs to provide connected bike lanes. Reifsnyder said in order to form this network of bike lanes, safety must be a priority.

“I would say the main focus is creating a network for transportation by bike,” Reifsnyder said. “Protected bike lanes are a key element of that because there’s a considerable number of people who are interested but concerned about safety, and protected bike lanes are shown to mitigate that concern among the population so more people will try to bike on protected lanes.”

Andrew Hartford, founder of the Longhorn Bike Coalition and chemistry senior, said he approves of the plan’s call for more protected bike lanes.

“24th [Street] is one of the most heavily used corridors by UT students, and, a lot of times, students have to mix with cars or walk on the sidewalk to get to campus,” Hartford said. “There could still be improvements to access campus, getting from North or West Campus and those areas. There could be more protected bike lanes, so students aren’t mixing with cars as much.”

The City Council will conduct a public hearing at their next meeting Thursday at City Hall.