Transportation

Traffic, public transit, congestion, road construction and closures, I-35, MoPac, US 290, US 183, Ben White Blvd, and policy and planning issues related to transportation and mobility in Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Starting this week, one of Austin’s most successful transportation programs will be more accessible to low-income Austinites. The B-cycle bike share program started a year and half ago. There’s been more than a quarter of a million bike trips on the system since, traveling more than 700,000 miles. Now, the company’s rolling out three new stations and new membership levels designed to include low-income residents.

There’s several membership options for the bike share system – locals can buy an annual one for $80 that gives them unlimited free trips under thirty minutes every year. And starting this week, any Austin resident making $25,000 or less a year can sign up for a membership that only costs $5 annually. 

KUT News

It’s been over a year since the ride-on-demand companies Uber and Lyft began operating in Austin. But it hasn’t yet been a full year yet since the companies were legally allowed to operate in Austin by the city under a pilot program. Extending that agreement could make for a bumpy road now that Uber has filed suit against the City of Austin and Texas Attorney General.

From the Texas Standard.

As recently as 1989 there were almost 1,300 metal truss bridges in the state. Now, we’re down to around 130 — just 10 percent of what we had 25 years ago.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr/KUT

Late last week, the number of traffic fatalities surpassed the total number of fatalities on Austin roads in all of last year. Currently, there have been 65 deaths with five months left in the year, compared to 63 in all of 2014. The previous peak for traffic fatalities over last few decades was in 2012, when the city saw 78 road deaths, but, this year, Austin is on track to exceed 100 deaths before the end of the year.

Below, you can view a map of the traffic deaths so far this year.

Flickr/ Eirik Johan Skeie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

From Texas Standard:

Sarah Millender wasn’t too concerned about her safety when she signed up as a driver four months ago. Today, she spends around 50 hours a week in her car, working full time for both Uber and Lyft. As she begins her Saturday night shift, she picks up a couple headed to dinner. They make small talk, and eventually ask Millender what it’s like being a female driver.

As she begins to tell the couple about her less-than-positive encounters, she mentions that she “didn’t realize how much the comments would get to [her].”

Photo Illustration by Todd Wiseman/TexasTribune

This year, the city allowed hundreds of thousands of new car trips when it legalized the ride service companies Lyft and Uber.

But, while these companies may be filling in a gap in transportation options, are they making traffic better or worse in Austin? And does the demand for ride services mean higher prices here than elsewhere in the country? 

CTRMA Announces MoPac Project Delay, Again

Jul 30, 2015
MoPac Improvement Project

From our city reporting partner, the Austin Monitor: Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, told board members Wednesday that the MoPac Improvement Project is expected to be fully operational sometime in the second half of 2016, a far cry from its originally stated Sept. 17, 2015, completion date.

Lead contractor CH2M Hill is responsible for the design and construction of CTRMA’s express lane project, which affects MoPac from Cesar Chavez Street to Parmer Lane. But the originally budgeted $200 million proposal has seen numerous delays because of labor shortages, drilling problems, weather issues, continual run-ins with unidentified utility infrastructure and debatably differing site conditions than those originally agreed upon, Heiligenstein said.

twostepsonesticker.com

If you drive a car in Texas, every year you need to do two things: get your vehicle inspected and renew its registration. Until this year, those were two separate stickers on your windshield.

But that’s changing now – which means a few new steps you'll want to be aware of.

Starting this year, the two stickers on your windshield are becoming one. Now Texans will get their vehicles inspected before renewing their registration, and then get just one sticker for both when they’re done.

It’s a big change that will eventually affect nearly every vehicle in the state. And it can be kind of confusing.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Austin’s roads are more dangerous than ever. The rate of fatal car crashes is nearly double what it’s been in previous years. It’s only July, and soon the city will have more traffic fatalities so far this year than we did during all of last year. These statistics alone paint a grim picture of road safety in Austin. 

But there's also a human face and voice behind each of these numbers. People like Tina-Michelle Pittsley, the victim of a near-fatal crash in Austin. 

MoPac Improvement Project

Big changes lie ahead for the MoPac Expressway as a toll lane is added in each direction. And those changes will affect drivers before the new lanes are ready. Here's what you'll need to know so you don’t miss your exit.

The MoPac Improvement project has reached the point where workers need to start digging for an underpass entrance and exit to and from downtown. That means drivers heading southbound on the highway will need to be ready for some significant changes to exits that start Monday.

Terrence Henry/KUT

While plenty of people are moving to Austin for the jobs, the outdoors and the lifestyle, the city is still missing something pretty important: sidewalks. Austin has only half of the sidewalks it's supposed to, and it will be a long time before it can fill in those gaps.

We've put together this explainer on Austin's sidewalk situation.

Wait, did I hear that right? Austin is missing half of its sidewalks?

Yes — there are a little more than 2,200 miles of sidewalks absent in the city, roughly half of the sidewalks the city is supposed to have. And many sidewalks are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) act. 

At the current rate of city funding, how long will it take to fully build out Austin’s sidewalks?

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The drenching rains that have fallen on Austin this year have provided sizable benefits: Reservoirs are recovering, lawns are green, and this summer will be cooler as a result. (Maybe a little more humid, too.)

But there are, of course, downsides to the rain, most notably the serious damage to lives and property from flooding. Austin’s infrastructure is taking a hit, too, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s right underneath you. 

Yes, we’re talking about potholes. Those holes in the road form thanks to two things: water and traffic, both of which Austin has plenty of lately.

YouTube

Remember the ‘Dillo? No, not the legendary music venue The Armadillo. We’re talking about Austin’s free trolley system that shut down in 2009. There were several routes that took people around downtown for free, starting in the eighties, until they went away a few years ago. 

Now, the ‘Dillo is making a comeback.

Kind of.

Mobility35

A new plan to improve Interstate 35 would add an additional lane on the upper decks of the highway between 15th and 51st Streets in Austin, according to a modified proposal announced today by state and city lawmakers

"The auxiliary lanes will give you a mile and a half to move into the main lanes of the upper deck and move those exiting to Airport [Blvd.] out of the main lanes," says Senator Kirk Watson, who laid out the new plan at a luncheon on Monday. 

Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT News

Today is 'Bike to Work Day' in Austin (and across the country), with more than two dozen “fueling stations” offering free snacks and drinks to Austinites on two wheels. While the percentage of Austinites who commute by bike is growing, it still remains low relative to peer cities outside of Texas. On average, only two percent of people in Austin regularly use a bike to get to work, though that percentage can be much higher in parts of the urban core. 

Austin ranks 91st on a list of 154 cities nationwide for bikeability according to Walk Score, while the state of Texas is in the bottom half of states for bike-friendliness, according to the League of American Bicyclists. The state ranks 30th, up a few places from last year. While Texas has made some incremental improvements in cycling-friendliness, like a 'share the road' campaign and other safety improvements, there’s a long way for the Lone Star State to go.

Courtesy HNTB Corporation

Austin can sometimes feel like one giant construction zone these days.

Road projects have been adding to the noise and delays, but there’s a hidden benefit to all that new pavement — many of the new road projects and highway dollars in town also mean improvements for Austinites getting around on bikes and on foot.

DOT

Austin suffers from plenty of traffic congestion, but the city is hardly alone there. Across the country, cities are having to confront the question of how to move more and more people around in a limited amount of space. On Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx came to Austin to discuss transportation issues and what the city can learn from others. 

His visit brought him to the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research, where he got to see research in traffic modeling and connected vehicle technology. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released 'Beyond Traffic,' a 30-year plan on the future of transportation in the country. "It looks at long-term trends and begins to shape the types of choices we have ahead of us," Foxx says. "And I came here today to see what kind of work is being done on research and innovation in transportation that's consistent with our plan." 

We spoke for a few minutes on Austin's traffic issues, transportation innovation, and difficulties consistently funding infrastructure and maintenance of the roads we already have. 

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Terrence Henry take on transportation.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

Raido Kalma/flickr

It's been almost a year since new ride services like Lyft and Uber have been up and running in Austin. At first Lyft and Uber were operating illegally, but under a temporary ordinance approved by City Council in October, those companies are now legal in town. Hailing a Lyft or Uber as a passenger has never been easier in Austin. But some of the information these companies are providing to the city as part of their interim agreement is proving harder to flag down. 

Lyft and Uber collect information on where all riders are being picked up and dropped, how much trips cost, how long trips are, and when they're seeing peak demand. They provide that data (stripped of user identification) to the city on a quarterly basis, "in order to help the City evaluate the role of TNCs [Transportation Network Companies] to address transportation issues, such as drunk driving and underserved community needs," according to the interim ordinance.

But the city is fighting on Uber and Lyft's behalf after KUT submitted an open records request to obtain the quarterly reports.

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