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Bicycle Boulevard Update: Monday night planning meeting report

Posted Sep 16 2010 9:39am

Editor Note: This Monday, City staff had a planning meeting to discuss implementation of the adopted plan for a downtown bicycle boulevard. Many in the cycling community missed this important meeting (including myself unfortunately), but Bicycle Advisory Council and LOBV board member Eileen Schaubert was there and made this report.

Monday night’s Bike Boulevard meeting was a lonely place for cyclists. Besides city staff, only 4 bikes were locked up outside. Turned out not to be a real issue since this meeting was an update to the stakeholders on the progress of the project as approved by City Council . The audience consisted of many of the familiar faces from the neighborhood that have been in attendance all throughout this process.

The discussion got a bit heated with some in the audience not understanding where in the process we are at – any complaints or pleas to leave their streets alone must go to Council. Staff is implementing the plan as approved. One particularly rude neighbor actually apologized to staff after the session so kudos to him for realizing the inappropriateness of his comments.

The most useful information presented was a short tutorial on the differences between modern roundabouts vs. traffic circles. The project plans include roundabouts on Rio Grande at 8th, 10th, 16th and 18th Streets. In a roundabout, the use of medians on the approach to the circle slows the motor vehicle by reducing lane width and angling the car before it can enter.  Austin’s current traffic circles can often be crossed virtually straight through at speed. Narrow lanes within the roundabout also keep speeds down. This should be an improvement for non-drivers.

Crosswalks are pulled back behind the first car space shortening the distance to the median’s pedestrian refuge. (Can I just say I hate the implications of that term?) This also allows for direct eye contact between pedestrians and drivers to negotiate right-of-way.

The truck skirt around the center island allows passage for buses, pickups with trailers and emergency vehicles but with a colored, textured and slightly angled surface that discourages cars from cutting across. Since these streets are narrow, these large vehicles will be able to cross the roundabout but not make left turns. Not a big deal since they can use the grid to navigate as needed.

Overall, the safety improvements using roundabouts are fantastic – 90% lower fatalities is the most impressive stat.  Across the country, they are used in large, high volume applications and really reduce turning crashes. This isn’t quite the concern on these streets but could bode well for implementation across Austin. The City’s new Assistant Director of Transportation Gary Schatz is a national expert and proponent of roundabouts so expect to see many more implemented in the future. I like them because they allow cyclists to keep rolling so we don’t have to argue over stopping at stop signs.

Project schedule was the final topic – the Shoal Creek bridge will be designed this fall, the school drop-off points will be constructed during winter break with the roundabouts starting in the spring. The presentation and other info including a video on roundabouts are up on the  City’s current project page.

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