After a contentious first public meeting on the conversion of Nueces Street downtown into a bicycle boulevard, the League of Bicycling Voters got together in mid-December to hammer out a cycling community proposal for this project. Much of the objections from property owners stems from uncertainty of the physical and economic impact this traffic calming would have on business and property values. In December, we addressed the economic impact of traffic calming, which has been overwhelmingly positive. It was hoped that by creating a draft design for consideration, the LOBV could help property owners see what this would actually look like and ensure what we get truly operates as a space for pedestrians and cyclists of all skill levels.
I participated in the December LOBV planning session, and here’s a quick review of the proposed boulevard in parts. The idea behind the bike boulevard is a to convert a street to allow smooth flowing bike traffic and use traffic calming to restrict car traffic to local only (i.e., eliminate cut-through traffic.)
Part 1: 3rd Street to 6th Street
This beginning of the bike boulevard from the south connects with the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, a major east-west bikeway. Because of the need for prison bus access from 4th street to the rear of the new Federal Courthouse, traffic calming in the first section of Nueces is limited to a large roundabout at 4th Street eliminating the current 4-way stop. Note that the roundabout was not in the original tool box of traffic calming proposed by the city staff due to concerns about response time from the Austin Fire Department. After followup from an LOBV member, the AFD conceded that their data on roundabouts and response time was inaccurate leading them to believe this tool could be put back on the table. At 5th and 6th Street, traffic diverters are installed coming south off of 5th and north off of 6th. These diverters prevent car traffic from proceeding onto the bike boulevard while allowing bikes to continue. They allow car traffic to exit the boulevard onto these busy streets. Diverters are recommended coming off of busy streets to prevent cut- through traffic.
Part 2: 6th Street to 11th Street
With the major cut-through traffic on 5th and 6th Streets eliminated, new traffic calming does not occur until 9th Street with a roundabout. Pinch points were discussed but since Travis County Sheriff’s prison buses need to access the rear of the county courthouse on this stretch of Nueces, the roundabout appeared to be the only traffic calming that would be compatible with these vehicles. Note that from here to MLK, all north-south stop signs have been eliminated allowing bicycles to traverse Nueces with limited stopping. Raise crosswalks at grade with the sidewalks are installed across the east-west stops of each intersection further providing traffic calming and giving pedestrians priority.
Part 3: 11th to 15th Street
North of the County Courthouse, we are free to put a pinch point just north of 11th Street acting as traffic calming coming off of the busier 12th Street. Pinch points reduce car traffic to a single lane while allowing bikes to bypass the pinch point on either side. At 12th, no left turn except for bike signs are added in addition to a north bound traffic diverter further reducing cut-through traffic. At 13th Street, a roundabout is added to replace the 4-way stop currently needed due to limited visibility. At 15th Street, the treatment of 12th street is repeated except with a median instead of pinch point on Nueces just north of 14th.
Part 4: 15th Street to MLK
A northbound traffic diverter at 15th Street prevents traffic from entering off the busy 15th Street. Raised sidewalks a the east-west stops resume again. Due to the fire station at MLK and Nueces, a diverter is not allowed coming southbound off of MLK. To calm this traffic, a roundabout at 18th Street is added. To further designate Nueces as a bike priority street, a full or half archway is proposed over Nueces at MLK.