Austin
11:40 am
Tue April 30, 2013

What Will it Take for Austin to Become a Bicycling Capital?

Story as it aired on KUT News 90.5 FM

Austin is steadily pedaling its way to becoming one of the bike-friendliest cities in the country.

With more than two percent overall of Austinites biking to work – and in some parts more than eight percent – the city has surpassed commuter goals set in its bike master plan. (The plan’s linked here.)

That success is due in part to the steady flow of money the city has allocated for bike projects. Still, bike advocates hope the $11.5 million voters approved in bond money last November will propel the city even further.

Annick Beaudet is hardcore when it comes to riding her bike. She commutes to work at least three times a week. Her commitment stems from the need to practice what she preaches.

Beaudet is Bicycle and Urban Trails Program Manager with the City of Austin. She’s looking for ways to make Austin as bike friendly as Portland, the bike mecca for commuters in the United States. In 2010, Beaudet decided to visit Portland. She describes standing by one of the city’s main bridges.

“It brought tears to my eyes watching the streams of diverse people of all ages, all different types of people coming across their bridges,” she recalls.

Beaudet says Portland and Austin are “very similar” in that “they have major bridges that bring people across the river into their downtown area, and they’ve improved all of their bridges.”

That improvement in Austin’s infrastructure went unmet for a long time. But two bike bridges will be built using money from the bond that voters passed last November. Bike advocates like Jack Sanford say Austin is steadily moving itself in the right direction. Sanford is with a bike non-profit lobbying group called Bike Texas.

“What Austin is doing is [called] protected bike lanes,” Sanford says. “We see those on Rio Grande near campus, on Fourth Street downtown. These protected bikeways are the way of the future to get people on their bikes.”

Sanford says protected lanes are “how people of all skill levels of all ages are going to feel safe on a bike.” Protected lanes physically separate bike lanes from traffic. Another bike project opens in May on Barton Springs. But it will take a few more years before Austin will have bike friendly bridges similar to the ones in Portland.

Annick Beaudet says the challenge is coordinating all the agencies that play a role in these large projects. “You have environmental clearances, especially when you leverage bond funding by using it as match for say federal or state grants, it takes a little more time to get through the clearances,” she says.

By the time all the bike related bond projects have been completed, Beaudet hopes Austin will be well on its way to becoming not Portland; but more like some European cities where biking is not a goal – it’s part of the culture.