Austin a Top 10 Bicycling City?
"A city like Austin is growing so much, cycling is
Lance Armstrong [full quote]
: "[The Austin
was adopted just over 10 years ago, and updated two years
include detailed routes. Reading the plan without having
actually bicycled around town, one might guess Austin must be
utopia by now.
"Well, it's not. In many cases, biking to a destination
across town using a relatively direct route ranges from
downright dangerous, and the further out from inner city
you travel, the dicier it gets. Equally pathetic, over the
years, while the regional population (Travis, Hays, and
Counties) has grown to more than two million, the estimated
of trips made by bike, according to the Capital Area
Planning Organization, has remained at a dismal 1%.
Since May is
Austin! Month, it's a likely moment to consider the thus far
unimpressive local progress on improving biking facilities
opportunities, and what might or should be done about it."
Selected U.S. Cities
scores are from WalkScore.com
on 12/31/12. As of that date,
these are the only 25 cities that WalkScore has
bikeability index for.
Austin is sometimes rated as one of
top bicycling cities in the America,* but it's a
that isn't really deserved.
- Austin gets a dismal Bike Score of 45 ("Somewhat Bikeable")
which ranks us a pitiful 22nd out
the 25 U.S. cities that it ranks for bikeability.
- Austin doesn't
rank in the top 19
bicycle-friendly cities rated by the League of American
2012. (We're at the Silver level, where places #20-57
- The Austin
metro area also ranks #18
for pedestrian danger even though we rank #34
by population, meaning it's way more dangerous
here for pedestrians than other areas are.
wrong with bicycling in Austin:
- Bike lanes for cars, not
bikes. Cars are legally able to park in
many of the
(!), with the City's blessing (e.g., on Shoal
- No bike lanes on new roads.
planners sometimes ignore cyclists' needs when building new
as with the new Mueller subdivision.
- No bicycle boulevards.
cities have bicycle
boulevards. Austin is not one of them.
- Lots of hit-and-run drivers.
Austin has the special shame of having a hit-and-run
rate that's 50%
higher than the national average. (2012)
And Austin ranks a pathetic 159
out of 200 cities for driver safety. (2014)
- Weak prosecution of at-fault
drivers. At-fault drivers in Austin
weak to no penalties for hitting cyclists, even when the
or the driver was drunk, or both. Sometimes it seems
best way to get away with running a red light in Austin is to
bicyclist while you're doing it. Here are tons
older examples and some more
- Not as many cyclists as the top
• Austin ranked in 120th place among 375 cities
percentage of commuters who bike to work. (2010
Am. Community Survey)
• Austin ranked 22nd among the 70 largest cities
percentage of commuters who bike to work from 2000-2010. (Am.
• We're not
among the top 10 metro areas for percentage of people biking
to work. (2009
Census; Austin's explicit rank not listed)
• We rank an abysmal 57th
cities greater than 250,000 people for the percentage of
households. (2000 U.S. Census)
• (However, Austin does have the
2nd-highest percentage of bike commuters (1.88%) among the
cities in the U.S.) (Governing,
- Cheating cyclists out of
voter-approved bond money, 1980s & 90s.
Eighties, voters approved almost $2 million in bonds to
Austin Bikeway Plan, which called for a comprehensive citywide
to include 160 miles of new bicycle lanes, and other policies
to break down barriers to continuous cycling. The result,
a 1993 report of the Austin Transportation Study: only 49
miles of bike
lanes were set aside, and of these, all but six are being used
parallel parking by motorists. Few of the other
recommendations of the
Austin Bikeway Plan were implemented, including bike route
provision of wide outside lanes on new road projects, and bike
maintenance. Ironically, over half of the $2 million in bonds
by voters was transferred from its intended use for bike lanes
pedestrian and trail projects. And, incredible as it sounds,
or about 20% of the total, went to fund the Veloway at Circle
facility that allows exercise-deprived suburbanites to burn
accumulated stresses of week-day commuting by riding bicycles
a circle on weekends." (Austin
- Cheating cyclists out of
voter-approved bond money, 2005-06.
million in transportation bonds in 2000 (Proposition 1), which
supposed to be spent at $15M per year for ten years, and was
to include bike projects. In March 2006, Councilmember
Alvarez asked the city to reveal how the money had been spent
far. The answer was that the first $67.2 million ALL
went for SH
130 right of way, and not a penny for any of the the other
promised to the bond voters on the ballot, including bike
projects! As a result of Alvarez' request, $10 million
proposed (with about $5 million so far for sidewalks). If you
read the Chronicle
article, you will see that $20 million
was being promised for bike and ped projects just before the
election." (Roger Baker, 2005-06)
- Not enough biking trails.
The City's own survey showed that only
68% of Austinites are satisfied with the
number of walking & biking trails. (2009)
as Old Guy on Two Wheels points out, while San
police ran an undercover sting to catch drivers who pass
cyclists too closely, our own police chief in Austin would
lecture cyclists about wearing helmets.
The first time Austin got a "top cycling
city" award, the Texas Bicycle Coalition [TBC] sent a
to the Austin City Council, commending them for their efforts
But really, what IS good about local cycling
really couldn't have been credited to the city council at that
which had done nothing or even
worked against us far more often than they helped us.
congratulatory letter from TBC to the council, followed by a
sent to the council. None of the councilmembers responded
except for Willie Lewis, who wrote only, "Thank you for your
TBC's letter congratulating the City Council on Austin's
first Top Ten ranking
- Dear Mayor and Council Members,
- You are to be congratulated!
- The latest issue of Bicycling Magazine ranks Austin in the
top ten of North American cities in which to ride. It is by
and that of former City Council Members that Austin is the
friendly city that it is.
- The criteria for making the top ten includes the Yellow
Bike Project, bicycle racks, bike trails and an active bike
population. All of the things that the City supports. The
Bicycling has a photograph of the city skyline and a great
photo of one
of the Yellow Bike Project members carting yellow bikes around
distributed. Activists, commuters, recreational riders, racers
transportation cyclists all look forward to continuing the
leading the nation in bike friendly action.
- As President of the Austin Cycling Association, the largest
cycling organization in the area, I am proud to be able to say
You to each one of you.
- Preston Tyree, President, Austin Cycling Association
- Education Director, Texas Bicycle Coalition
Jan. 21, 1999
Michael Bluejay's response
- From: Michael Bluejay
- To: Texas Bicycle Coalition
- Garcia, Gus - Austin City Council
- Goodman, Jackie
- Griffith, Beverly
- Lewis, Willie
- Slusher, Daryl
- Spelman, Bill
- Watson, Kirk-Austin City Council
- CC: austin bicycle email
- Date: Jan. 24, 1999
- Dear Councilmembers & Texas Bicycle Coalition:
- If Austin is one of the Top 10 North American cities for
cycling, then that only demonstrates how terrible North
America is for
cycling and not how wonderful Austin is. Reviewing the
certainly appears that the City Council deserves more blame
- #1: PARKING IN BICYCLE LANES
- It is legal for cars
to park in most bicycle lanes in the City. So why even
bike lanes? If cyclists can't use them, then what's the point?
addressed the previous Council about this issue, but the
express any interest in addressing it. Eric Mitchell wrongly
that it was already illegal for cars to park in bike lanes.
Willie Lewis, and Bill Spelman's representative (Mike
Blizzard) said on
my radio program that they supported car-free bike lanes, but
there's been no action from Council. Due to non-action by the
other bicycle advocates have been working with Transportation
Public Works to establish car-free bike lanes. But even if
in getting cars banned from more bike lanes, another problem
remains is enforcement. I see cars illegally parked in the
in my neighborhood on Rio Grande and Nueces nearly EVERY DAY
the few bike lanes where it's already illegal for cars to
police usually come if I call them about it, but they don't
effort to ticket cars unless someone calls it in. On this
council deserves blame and not credit.
- #2: FAILURE TO FUND THE BICYCLE
- The Council has historically under- or non-funded the
Bicycle Program. Here's the opening from a late 1997 letter by
Waring, former Coordinator of the City's Bicycle Program:
- "Dear Mayor Watson and City Council members: I am extremely
disappointed. The 1998 budget you approved has zero dollars in
allocations for bicycle and pedestrian program needs and
provision. Frankly, this is one of the reasons I resigned my
[as the City's Bicycle Coordinator]. We initiated and built
without a budget for three and a half years. With the election
progressive council, I was certain that finally City leaders
their commitment and provide badly needed funding for bicycle
pedestrian access and safety. You did not, but I should not
surprised; Austin has a long history of lip service without
commitment to bicyclists and pedestrians. Witness allowing
bike lanes and lack of maintenance of existing bicycle
[The complete letter appears at the end of
Here again, the council deserves blame and not credit.
- #3: CREATING THE HELMET ORDINANCE
AND FAILING TO FULLY REPEAL IT
- A couple of years ago the City Council created what was
probably the most unpopular ordinance in Austin history when
the bicycle helmet ordinance. But the council didn't just
will of the people, it ignored the facts -- that on average,
cyclists die in Austin each year, that some of those who die
wearing helmets ANYWAY, that many more pedestrians and
than cyclists and THEY don't have to wear helmets, that
are not required to wear helmets, etc. Disturbingly, the
it was more important to try to force the use of a piece of
that *might* help us once we've been hit rather than
PREVENTING US FROM
GETTING HIT IN THE FIRST PLACE (by getting cars out of bike
funding the Bicycle Program, etc.). Also disturbingly, the
completely unconcerned that its local police was using the
ordinance as an excuse to arrest cyclists left and right and
in JAIL. (And for comparison, when was the last time you heard
motorist being not just ticketed, but taken to JAIL for not
seatbelt?) And despite the fact that at the time 70% of the
tickets given to kids were given to black & Hispanic kids,
council kept the helmet ordinance intact for kids when
amending it. An
advocate from the League of Bicycling Voters informed me that
councilmember Slusher refused a compromise on the helmet
which would have kept the ordinance but removed the penalties,
Slusher insisted on having a punitive ordinance. I also
Slusher misleading the citizenry at the helmet ordinance
tricking them into giving up their speaking time, promising
"repeal" was imminent, when in fact the council intended not
but rather to amend, and kept the law intact for kids. Here
council deserves blame and not credit.
- #4: POLICE HARASSMENT
- I've lost count of how many cyclists I've met who were ARRESTED
for minor traffic infractions. Not just
ticketed, but ARRESTED. Just recently my friend Jennifer
Sigman was arrested and taken to jail for
riding her bicycle on
the sidewalk downtown. The police in this City have no
accountability to anyone. The council's compromise earlier
was basically worthless since it did not provide for a
Board. This is a major failing of the council. Here again, the
deserves blame and not credit.
- #5: MOTORISTS WHO HIT CYCLISTS
DON'T FACE CONSEQUENCES
- About half of the serious car-bike
collisions in Austin are hit & runs. The council's
treatment of cyclists as second-class citizens only reinforces
same mindset in motorists and makes them unconcerned about
even killing us. These hit & run motorists don't face any
consequences because nobody knows who they are and they're
caught. But even when the motorists are known, often nothing
happen to them. Police officers routinely fail to ticket or
drivers who injure cyclists even when the drivers are clearly
And even though the Tom Churchill case made it to a grand
grand jury failed to indict the motorist although he was
at-fault. The council could set an example for the police and
jurors by treating cycling and cyclists with respect, but
antagonistic action (e.g., the helmet ordinance) and lack of
other areas (e.g., cars in bike lanes, funding for the Bicycle
Program), it helps foster the attitude that cyclists don't
again, the council deserves blame and not credit.
- #6: THE YELLOW BIKE PROJECT
- One of the reasons cited in the Bicycling article for
ranking Austin in the Top 10 was the Yellow Bike Program. Of
the Council deserves no credit for this because the Yellow
is not a City program, it's a private non-profit organization.
Council's helmet ordinance nearly killed the whole program
even got properly established, with police officers arresting
who tried to use the free yellow bikes without helmets. The
Project was able to secure a shop space from the City in
providing the City with bicycles for employees to use, but the
Bikers had to go through a year of the City's red tape before
could actually move into the space.
- #7: THE VELOWAY
- After not spending money for nearly a decade which had been
authorized by voters to build bike lanes and make other biking
improvements, an earlier City Council threw most of that money
the Veloway, a recreation & racing loop outside the (then)
limits, which does absolutely nothing to aid cycle commuting
- Does any City Councilmember actually have any concrete
plans for addressing any of the above issues? I doubt it.
Bicycle Program Coordinator Rick Waring's late 1997 letter to
Austin City Council
- Dear Mayor Watson and City Council members:
- I am extremely disappointed. The 1998 budget you approved
has zero dollars in allocations for bicycle and pedestrian
needs and service provision. Frankly, this is one of the
resigned my position [as the City's Bicycle Coordinator]. We
and built the program without a budget for three and a half
the election of your progressive council, I was certain that
City leaders would show their commitment and provide badly
funding for bicycle and pedestrian access and safety. You did
I should not have been surprised; Austin has a long history of
service without real commitment to bicyclists and pedestrians.
allowing parking in bike lanes and lack of maintenance of
- In 1994 the City Council created the Bicycle Program
Coordinator position, but did not provide funding for the
This forced the Department of Public Works and Transportation
funding to provide salary for the unfunded staff position. The
words the Assistant Director told me when I started the job
have no budget". I should have walked right out the door, but
thought, "This is April and next fiscal year we'll receive
did not. In subsequent years, neither City management nor
provided any program or service provision funding. We did our
"borrowing" from other budgets and using long-term debt bond
provide daily services, but this was grossly inadequate and a
poor choice as well. Now all bicycle bonds are expended, yet
provided no funding for the program. How do you expect staff
services without funding?
- To soften the blow of providing absolutely no funding,
advocates were told of a transportation retreat to be held in
during which reallocation of funds in the existing budget for
and pedestrian needs would be discussed. Of course, this would
"robbing Peter to pay Paul," but it would be better than
nothing. Now I
hear the retreat is postponed until December. December? Do you
plan to hold this retreat during the holiday season? I will
surprised if the retreat is delayed again and may canceled
I would ask when the Bicycle Plan, Part II will come forward
adoption, but without funding it hardly matters.
- United States population is doubling ever 20 to 40 years
depending on the popularity of a allocation. Austin's is
double in 20. Since 1990, registrations of motor vehicles in
County exceeded population growth by three percent, yet the
Council lacked the courage to create a pedestrian staff
Anyone who walks in Austin knows how much work is needed to
years of neglect and inattention. Anyone who has worked in the
Transportation Department knows there isn't enough staff or
to do this job. And anyone who cares enough to examine recent
knows very little of long-accumulated pedestrian demand has
addressed. If it weren't for [the federal Americans with
Act], even the disabled would probably still be ignored.
- I am encouraged by your efforts to support downtown
development in spite of the fact that this is an easy
developers stand to gain and no neighborhoods oppose the
density. Nevertheless, those knowledgeable of what it takes to
a fine city are grateful.
- Now make a tough decision. Via a budget amendment allocate
funding for bicycle and pedestrian services and make a strong
of their importance to the vitality, health and future of the
Please do not do this only in a surreptitious way by shifting
within an existing budget &emdash; while this would help,
not establish program funding nor does it publicly support
bicycles and walking for transportation.
- I cannot know how tough your jobs are, but I have some
idea. I realize the pressure must be very intense and the
never ending. I applaud you for your courage and willingness
While you have this opportunity, please take steps to
for these badly needed services. Although I was able to secure
for staffing and some program expenses for the present, grant
is not likely to be available for staff or program expenses in
future. Thank you for your consideration of this request and
difficult jobs you do.
- Rick Waring.
- P.S. Please do not send this letter to City staff to write
your response. I would appreciate hearing from you about this
issue. I know you are busy, but you can dictate a reply to
staff and tell us what you plan to do, not what City staff
plan to do.
- [FYI: In 6/01, we learned that Rick Waring had become the
Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety Program Manager for the Oregon
Also check out our
coverage of the City
critiques the bikability of part of Austin
Posted to the austin-bikes email list, 7-8-00
This evening I went from my apartment near 6th and West
Lynn, via Campell and 5th to Whole Foods on Lamar, from there on
Barton Springs Pool via Robert E Lee for a quick dip, then back
the Mopac bridge off Stratford to home. Simple, right? Hardly.
E. 5th: 3 lanes of heavy traffic. It's extremely
challenging to get into the right lane on this road, basically
one to ride along the left lane until one reaches the Baylor
Hopefully a possible pending light at Campbell will help a lot
Very poor riding.
Lamar to Whole Foods: Heavy traffic, very poor riding
Lamar to Barton Springs Road: Periodic high-speed
2-abreast traffic going under the tracks and over the bridge.
poor riding. I passed a memorial to a dead pedestrian.
Barton Springs Road: Heavy traffic, narrow lanes,
and poor pavement. Very poor riding.
Robert E Lee: Remarkably heavy, high-speed traffic
& substandard width lanes. I passed a memorial, apparently
murdered police officer. Very poor riding.
Barton Springs again: See above.
Stratford: A good road for riding, although one
needs to watch the residential SUV traffic.
E. 5th again: See above. Turning left onto West Lynn
is an adventure, to say the least, with a rear view mirror.
one, it would be even tougher.
W. Lynn: A good road for riding.... maybe 100 meters.
6th St.: Very heavy traffic, narrow lanes. Unlike
5th, traffic here is at least somewhat fragmented. Still, riding
very poor, especially in the rain (no rain this evening)
This ride, about the most basic thing one would want to do
around here, was strikingly unridable. It reminds me of the
assessment of Austin as a top 10 cycling city. Clearly the
didn't do this circuit, or it would have made their other list.
Complete Lance Armstrong
Here's the complete excerpt about Lance Armstrong's remarks
about cycling in Austin, from the Austin American-Statesman,
On Friday, he met with members
of the congressional Bike Caucus in Washington, lamenting
lightning growth and traffic problems.
"A city like Austin is growing so
much, cycling is ruined there," he told U.S. Rep. Lloyd
D-Austin, and other members of the group. "In just 10 years
A place like Boulder, Colorado, is just ruined, also."
It's no surprise that Armstrong feels this way, given that a
redneck tried to run him over
with his truck in 1998.
says Austin is #13 (out of 50) for
bike-friendliness of U.S. cities.
Austin #2 of cities between 0.5-1.0 million people.
1999. LAB rates Austin as one of the Top 10 bicycling
North America in 1999.
Page last updated: September 2014