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First bike boulevard open house highlights tensions between cyclists and Nueces Street property owners

Posted Dec 10 2009 10:51am
Nueces St Bike Boulevard Open House was standing room only. Image courtesy of Austin Cycling Association. Photo by Laura King.

Nueces St Bike Boulevard Open House was standing room only. Image courtesy of Austin Cycling Association. Photo by Laura King.

Last night, the City of Austin held the first of three design and feedback open houses for Austin’s first bicycle boulevard proposed for Nueces Street from 3rd Street to MLK, Jr Boulevard. The Nueces Street Bike Boulevard was part of the Master Bicycle Plan unanimously adopted by the Austin City Council in June.

During an introduction presentation, the selection of Nueces Street was explained because it met these criteria for good bike boulevard candidate:

  • A route already used by cyclists
  • A street on a grid system easing car traffic to other streets
  • Low current motor vehicle speed and volume
  • A good grade with no overly difficult hills
  • Connection to popular destinations and other bicycle facilities
  • A mix of current uses

In a packed, standing room only room at Pease Elementary, approximately 100 attendees for the most part fell into two categories: cyclists there to support the proposed bike boulevard and property owns who either do not want the boulevard at all or want it moved to Rio Grande Street. After a brief presentation by City of Austin Bicycle Coordinator Annick Beaudet, a comments section began. Though cyclist made up a majority in attendance, the majority of comments came from property owners who were universally negative. Most owners moderated their comments by suggesting the proposed boulevard be moved to Rio Grande Street. While there appeared to be merits to either street being used, it wasn’t clear that the owners weren’t just trying to pass off the concept to other property owners on Rio Grande, many of whom were not in attendance.

Tensions ran high in the comments period with one property owner asking how many people there owned land and were tax payers, the assumption being the majority of cyclists weren’t stakeholders because they don’t own land. Others suggested that customers and clients would somehow not be able to find their businesses if traffic diverters were installed (one way car, two way bike intersections forcing cars to come into the neighborhood on different streets.) Beaudet responded, “Lots of Austin roads have changed. It’s hard for me to remember Cesar Chavez as a one way street yet people have adapted. I find the idea that customers can’t adapt to street changes not credible.”

Also of concern was affect on property values. Beaudet indicated there was no proof of adverse changes to property values in other cities with bicycle boulevards and in fact some saw increased business and have requested removal of car parking for bike parking. Curiously, several owners expressed support for redevelopment of parts of Nueces with high density, multi-use buildings yet opposed transportation mode shifting. They apparently think we can shoe horn in thousands of more residents in a few blocks and have everyone continue to drive everywhere with no problems.

Visioning what the bike boulevard would look like with planning map and tools. Image courtesy of Austin Cycling Association. Photo by Laura King.

Visioning what the bike boulevard would look like with planning map and tools. Image courtesy of Austin Cycling Association. Photo by Laura King.

After the comments period, a more constructive session started with city staff laying out huge maps of the proposed corridor to allow participants a chance to vision what the street would look like. Graphic chips with examples of speed cushion, medians, traffic diverters, and standard bike lanes were used to move around the map and see what worked. One limitation on Nueces Street came from uses by APD, the Fire Department, and Capital Metro. Most dominant was the Fire Department that required a clear southbound path for fire trucks down the entire length of Nueces. This essentially means traffic diverters could only be used to divert northbound traffic.

There was less tension between the groups during this period. One of the owners wanting no new facilities on a portion of Nueces near her property still suggested parking removal on one side of the street to accommodate bike lanes if the boulevard had to happen. Once force to look at solutions with pen and paper, there was a departure of the earlier NIMBY rhetoric and appeared to be a more earnest approach to figuring out how to all live together. The consensus heard from the cyclists there was that while Nueces Street was the preferred corridor they were open to Rio Grande Street as an alternative as well. The key was that the cyclists want a true bike boulevard with lots of traffic calming and the location within a street or two was of less import.

Example of possible Pinch Point traffic calming. Click image for download of all options.

Example of possible Pinch Point traffic calming. Click image for download of all options.

Kuddos to City staff for remaining calm, providing an open safe place for feedback, and offering the tools to do good planning. There will be two more design feedback sessions in January for those that missed the first open house:

  • Wednesday, January 13, 6-8 PM:  Project Discussion and Public Design Exercise
  • Wednesday, January 27, 6-8 PM:  Design Presentation and Final Commenting

All of the open houses will be at Pease Elementary School, 1106 Rio Grande St. If you cannot make the Open Houses, you can still contact the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program staff with your feedback and suggestions. Jason Fialkoff at (512) 627-9150 or Jason.fialkoff@ci.austin.tx.us is the point person on this.

The League of Bicycling Voters is also suggesting you contact the Austin City Council in support of the bicycle boulevard via their group e-mail. While a Council vote may not be required unless the plan changes radically from the approved Master Bike Plan, staff will confer with Council on how Public Works will proceed with the bike boulevard.

More images of the December 9, 2009 Nueces Street Bike Boulevard Open House here. Courtesy of Austin Cycling Association, Photos by Laura King.

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