In 2007, the City of Austin Bike Plan (click to download document) began with these words, “The aim of the Austin Bicycle Plan is to increase bicycle use and safety.” Per the adopted Austin Bicycle Plan, “On-street automobile parking and bicycle lanes are incompatible because the parked cars essentially prevent use of the lane. Parking should not be allowed in bicycle lanes.” Through the Bicycle Program and other programs, the City of Austin strives to increase bicycle use and safety to protect cyclists from the impact of automobiles.
In 2009, the bike plan began with a forward letter from then Mayor Will Wynn. The document reveals what was to be done when improving infrastructure for the goal of becoming the most bicycle-friendly major city in Texas and a world class bicycle-friendly city. Page forty-five of this master plan shows the studies and feedback provided as well as illustrates the stake the City had in increasing contiguous routes not just for commuters but for recreational and athletic users of bike lanes.
In 2014, the plan grew seemingly even stronger. “A change in focus” leads the charge on the city website for the master bike plan.. The change is touted as going from “To Create and Promote the best environment for the friendly coexistence of bicycle riders and other transportation users in Austin” to “To maximize the contribution of bicycling to Austin’s quality of life”.
Due to lack of preparation and planning by the City of Austin, last night’s meeting devolved into a group of people arguing their opinions in anger, or into what I think of as the “angry face phenomenon.”
In a book I once read this illustration was provided:
Jarvis Masters, who is a prisoner on death row, wrote a book, called Finding Freedom. In a chapter called “Angry Faces,” Jarvis has his TV on in his cell but he doesn’t have the sound on because he’s using the light of the TV to read. And every once in a while, he looks up at the screen, then yells to people down the cell block to ask what’s happening.
The first time, someone yells back, “It’s the Ku Klux Klan, Jarvis, and they’re all yelling and complaining about how it’s the blacks and the Jews who are responsible for all these problems.” About half an hour later, he yells again, “Hey, what’s happening now?” And a voice calls back, “That’s the Greenpeace folks. They’re demonstrating about the fact that the rivers are being polluted and the trees are being cut down and the animals are being hurt and our Earth is being destroyed.” Some time later, he calls out again. “Now what’s going on?” And someone says, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s the U.S. Senate and that guy who’s up there now talking, he’s blaming the other guys, the other side, the other political party, for all the financial difficulty this country is in.”
Jarvis starts laughing and he calls down, “I’ve learned something here tonight. Sometimes they’re wearing Klan outfits, sometimes they’re wearing Greenpeace outfits, sometimes they’re wearing suits and ties, but they all have the same angry faces.” Pema Chodron, (1997) When Things Fall Apart.
Last night’s meeting literally fell apart. People who don’t regularly advocate came to the meeting hoping to have a voice, but the City was unorganized and threatened by its own meeting or lack of procedure or perhaps unprepared for the passion in the voices that were there. There was a lack of moderation, a quelling of speech, and palpable fear from prepared speakers wanting to present factual information. No facts were ever presented save for a few slides I had prepared that were shouted about by those assuming the direction of the slide.
What happened last night was a gathering, a coming together of a group of caring people, of community members, all of whom share a similar goal. The resounding need in the room, both spoken and unspoken, by everyone who attended was this: “Help calm this street, it is moving too fast, it is dangerous for those trying to leave their driveways, it is dangerous for children riding their bikes though the route is designated as a safe route to schools, and homeowners want on street parking. Help keep us safe, help us keep ourselves and our families and our neighbors safe.”
Various arguments were made that began with, “I have a circular driveway and a long driveway” I need on-street parking. “I want my grandmother to be able to park in front of my house on the street when she comes to visit,” this last seeming to assume that there is no room in the driveway when in fact the street-to-door length in this area is actually greater than driveway-to-door in most instances. People wanting bike lanes were arguing for their life and the lives of those they love who use the bike lanes and fear being pushed into faster-moving traffic.
The City has neither posted nor provided actual studies of what is wrong with the current situation or how to fix it; instead, they created a forum in which many disparate opinions were shared in the absence of facts, in which neighbors shouted down neighbors in an emotional effort to be heard. . The City of Austin so far has only presented goals involving striping and nothing that demonstrably would improve calming conditions which is what everyone is seeking. There is no scenario, though, where facts have been provided that show that removing bike lanes creates safer streets for our most vulnerable road users.
The Austin Vulnerable Road User Ordinance code provides that cars must maintain a distance of three feet from people on bikes and other vulnerable road users and six feet if the motorist is a large truck.
Not one person or City staffer addressed how any of the proposals would work with this law. A discussion that I tried to initiate, but the city shut down due to last-minute time constraints and a fear of my prepared slides.
I came to the meeting to show the various hazards presented by the proposed options. I was met at the beginning of the meeting by City of Austin representative and proposal leader, Laura Dierenfeld, the Active Transportation Program Manager. She stated that she did not want me to show slides because it was using “technology”. She stressed that she did not want me to make any presentation despite the fact that I live off of Mesa and have a child and a home in the area. In other words, free speech was not being afforded. Laura and Nathan Wilkes of the same department dealt with this by disclaiming at the beginning of the meeting “a person wants to show a powerpoint and we want to let you know we do not approve”. They decided to limit each person’s time to speak to three minutes. So, a line was formed and folks that had something to say lined up, took the microphone and spoke until they were told their time was up.
Opinion followed opinion. Again, similar cries for safer streets. Except for the one guy who argued, he needed a wide shoulder in front of his house with a circular and long driveway because traffic is too heavy, even though he does not concern himself with traffic because “I drive a big truck with a big bumper and I make my way”. Dangerous much?
An engineer from the City attended but was not asked to address any of the issues brought to the table. Council Member Sherri Gallo could not be bothered to attend, according to a representative from her office, due to more important issues in “another neighborhood.”
Nobody addressed the lack of studies on what can be done with a forty foot street for traffic calming, maintaining marked and contiguous bike lanes and creating some relief for those in need of parking. I note that there has been no demonstrated need for parking, only a loud cry from a very few for want of parking.
The only “study” was the parked car count conducted only four times during different times of day. Attendees at the meeting reported completely different independent observations just this past week.
Basically what this comes down to is there is not enough information, no formal studies, and a blatant attempt to prevent free flow of actual facts. Apparently a community meeting is only for opinion, what could go wrong there?
I left last night’s meeting wondering what unintended consequences will follow from what I perceive to be a lack of integrity on the part of the City, which seems to prioritize a knee-jerk reaction to a few homeowners over a thoughtful solution which would protect thousands of people who ride bikes along this corridor daily.
The majority of voices heard asked resoundingly for street humps, or turnabouts, or even narrower car lanes to reduce the traffic pace and create a calmer environment. These concerns remain without acknowledgement or answer from the City of Austin.
What I do know is that there was an amazing turn-out of concerned citizens; some who live in our neighborhood and some who use the bike lanes regularly and whose voices are those the City of Austin Bike Plan is allegedly addressing.
Regardless of the decision the City of Austin reaches in this situation, it will walk away, wash its hands of any liability for future consequences, no matter how foreseeable, and any and all unintended consequences. Under no circumstances should any changes be made without the appropriate studies of what each the proposals presented may produce in terms of traffic and the risks associated or how these proposals work with existing goals, policy, and plans.
Facts to be considered relating to ten foot shoulders with no designated bike lane:
- The average truck width is six and a half feet.
- The average door opens three feet.
- The average space a person riding a bike needs to pass a vehicle safely is three feet if it is a small vehicle and six feet if it is a larger vehicle.
- Cars or trucks parked on a shoulder rarely park directly against the curb, that may leave less than two feet of space for a person on a bike to pass.
- If a person is exiting the vehicle there is the door zone of three feet and the human factor zone to be considered of several feet for ingress or egress of the vehicle.
- Ten feet of shared space for parked cars is dangerous and we have seen the results on Shoal Creek.
- Shoal Creek has this configuration of on street parking with shared bike path. There are regular battles of wills and might from autos to people riding bikes.
Benefits of bike lanes…well, there are too many to enumerate, so please reference what People for Bikes has to say on the matter.
A simple online search will demonstrate the multiple options not even being suggested by the City of Austin to create safer cycling and traffic calming on Mesa.
Let’s get serious about safety. Frankly, no one’s opinion matters as much as learned answers following deliberate efforts to find safe solutions.