Lamar Bike/Pedestrian Bridge
Executive Summary, Summer 2002: The city built a separate bike/ped bridge next to Lamar Blvd. over Town Lake, but didn't reconnect it with Lamar on the north side, making the bridge useful only for joggers & hike & bikers using the trail system, and useless for bike commuters trying to get across the river, who will continue to use the main (and dangerous) car bridge. Citizens have been trying to get the city to find ways to finish the bridge, but there are four things in the way:
The Austin Chronicle ran a detailed article about development in this area (including the bridge extension) in June 2002. A sidebar offers a good map showing the proposed bridge extensions and roadway realignments.
Update: Oct. 2004: There are meetings currently underway about how to finish the bridge.
Update: Feb. 2006: The City Council approved extending the bridge by building a center arm.
Original NW arm design
Shoal Creek Trail Improvements
$2.7M Flyover of Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida
$2.8M Tunnel under UPRR, extension to 5th
The original design is engineered and permitted; this would provide a time savings. It is also cheaper than the proposed redesign. It was designed before the Seaholm area redevelopment and Lance Armstrong (formerly Crosstown) Bikeway came along; it may not provide the optimum connectivity to these projects.
$3.0M Flyover of Cesar Chavez to south of Sandra Muraida
$3.1M Ramp and tunnel beneath relocated Sandra Muraida
$2.8M Tunnel under UPRR, extension to 5th
In addition, this requires relocation of Sandra Muraida (approximately $2.0 M) which could be fronted by a developer but City would have to reimburse, bringing the total to approximately $10.9 M
Also, the cost to prepare the existing design for the NW arm extension was about $750,000; this would have to be redone for any new proposal. This is typical; design costs are about 15-25% of a project budget.
The proposed redesign is actually quite a bit more expensive. It may be able to provide better connectivity within the area and be more aesthetically pleasing.
(as requested by Councilmember Slusher and possibly others as a less expensive option)
These improvements would not offer a complete fix to this trail section. This would entail (moving from south to north along the creek) a bridge from Post Properties south of the creek to Post Properties north of the creek, trail along the east side of the creek, and a rebuilt low-water crossing back to the west side of the creek just south of 5th Street. One would still have to climb up the stairs to access 5th Street; this plus the low water crossing make the trail only partially viable for various users under various conditions.
The Shoal Creek Trail does need the proposed improvements; it does not provide a suitable final build-out for the Lamar corridor.
I would second Patrick's demand for a fast-track process for relocating Sandra Muraida and extending the bridge if we follow the ROMA plan for the area. From what I know about these kind of things, I would guess about 3 years would be a minimum to see some construction on a new design, assuming funding is already lined up. Add as many more years as you like if federal funding will be involved. My biggest concern would still be the cost; $10-12 M is a lot of clams or samolians; that amount can only increase over time.
Patrick Goetz writes on 5-24-01: When it comes right down to it, what is $2-3 million anyway, for a city the size of Austin? Does anyone on this list other than the UTC'ers have any idea how much money the city wastes on completely idiotic and unnecessary intersection widening projects like the ones currently being done at North Loop and Lamar+Burnett? Together, these projects cost around $5 million, and are completely unnecessary, given the volume of traffic on North Loop -- I know, I live 2 blocks from the first of these intersections.... Ten years from now the $3 million (and even this amount is in dispute -- some city staffers are convinced that the difference in price is much lower) which prevented the LBPB from getting built will look like the financial equivalent of ant piss, but not having the bridge extension will be a major urban problem.
At its 5-24-01 meeting, the City Council decided how to reallocate the money that Capital Metro had been saving to build a light rail system, since the light rail proposal failed by a nose in the 11-00 election. Many citizens had hoped that the City would apply some of those funds towards finishing the bridge, but instead the council voted to spend the money on other transportation projects instead.
Jeb Boyt writes on 6-02-01: City staff had determined that the high cost for completing the bridge made it unlikely that TxDOT would grant TEA-21 funds for it. Austin is competing for these funds against Travis County, Round Rock, Hutto, and other Central Texas governments. The City decided to submit three good projects: the North Walnut Creek Trail (50% match), Upper Boggy Creek Bikeway (40% match), and Congress Ave. Bridge improvements (40% match). TxDOT will approve the TEA-21 projects by 11-01, and the City may then decide to reallocate the match funds for any projects not approved. (Councilmember Wynn expressed last Thursday that those funds be dedicated to arterial and neighborhood sidewalk improvements.)
Also, the TEA-21 application for the Lamar Bike/Ped Bridge would only have extended to the south side of the UP tracks. Getting underneath the tracks and up to 5th & Lamar would require another project and several million more dollars. [Note: Boyt is simply explaining the council's reasoning; he had encouraged the council to seek TEA-21 funds to finish the bridge anyway.]
At its 6-4-01 meeting, the Urban Transportation Commission voted to recommend that the City Council name the bridge after James Pfluger, who had designed many of Austin's hike & bike trails. (The council did so.) Most of the citizens who showed up for the meeting requested this, although your editor had requested that the bridge be named after Eric Anderson, since the City snubbed his efforts on the Crosstown Greenway by naming it after Lance Armstrong instead.
The official opening and naming ceremony was conducted on Sat., June 16, 2001. Here are some photos of the grand opening.
Tommy Eden, 6-20-01
One of the issues to be considered at the June, 2001, meeting of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee of the Urban Transportation Commission is the interaction of the Seaholm Master Plan and the completion of the new Pfluger Bridge to 5th St. and Lamar Blvd. According to a memo from the Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability Department, the alignment of the bridge extension will be removed from the Seaholm Master Plan and will not be considered until after the City Council has approved the Seaholm Master Plan [expected in early August]. In other words, the city staff is holding the bridge completion hostage to the approval of the Seaholm Master Plan.
We need to send a clear message to the City Council that the extension of the Pfluger Bridge should not be postponed because of the Seaholm Master Plan. On the contrary, any consideration of the Seaholm Master Plan should be tabled, and Phase II of the Pfluger Bridge should be completed AS ALREADY DESIGNED AND PERMITTED as soon as funding is available.
Patrick Goetz (I think this was from late 2001, but I neglected to record the date)
UTC UNANIMOUSLY VOTED TO URGE CITY COUNCIL TO FUND THE ORIGINAL BRIDGE PLAN. That's right, I also voted to encourage council to fund the old bridge design DESPITE the fact that I no longer thought this would be a good idea. I was certain there was no way that the original bridge design was going to get funded, but I intended to make damn sure that I didn't get blamed for it's failure by voting against it ("Well, you see, Patrick, council WOULD have voted for the original bridge design, but since the UTC only endorsed this move by a vote of 7-1 rather than unanimously, you're personally and solely responsible for its failure." No thanks. And if this sounds ludicrous, it's not nearly as ludicrous as the idea that the old bridge had even a ghost of a chance of getting funding under the circumstances.) So, the UTC unanimously endorsed allocating funds for the old bridge design, and dozens and dozens of bicyclists showed up at the city council meeting to speak in favor of funding the bridge. Well, guess what: Council didn't even consider it, and Watson short circuited the process by not even letting the bicyclists speak their mind.
What is the Seaholm Plan? It's a plan for a complete redevelopment of the entire area surrounding the Seaholm power plant. Features from this plan include extending West Ave through to Cesar Chavez (with bike lanes on both sides of West), extending 3rd St. through to West, a 3rd street pedestrian bridge crossing over Lamar, moving Sandra Muraida north in order to create a sizeable and usable green space between Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida, and moving Cesar Chavez north in order to significantly widen the open land buffer between the northern Town Lake H&B trail and Cesar Chavez. The plan also includes a fair amount of mixed use development opportunities and a considerable amount of thought and detail directed towards more efficient land use; for example on element the plan calls for replacing and existing obsolete water treatment facility with one which takes up less than half the space and in a slightly different location, freeing a rather sizeable chunk of real estate for mixed use development.
The bottom line is I would be hard pressed to come up with a better urban design for this area than what the Roma Group has produced. It combines efficient land use with useable transportation corridors and includes plenty of opportunities for landscaping and green space in the process. The current topology of Sandra Muraida Way is completely fucked up, with absolutely no regard for efficient land use or aesthetics. The original design for the LBPB was a reaction to this bad car design, namely simply build a bridge which goes over the whole mess and drops you somewhere north of it all. The Seaholm plan seeks to correct this mistake be re-orienting Sandra Muraida Way so that it simultaneously takes up less space and forces cars to transition from Lamar to Cesar Chavez more slowly, creating a safer environment. The one catch is that the new design is incompatible with the old LBPB design, since in the Seaholm Plan, Sandra Muraida Way is now located in roughly the same place where the original LBPB was going to reconnect with the ground. The new design for the LBPB calls for a bridge which drops you down in the green space between Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida, with a tunnel under Sandra Muraida (which is elevated a the Lamar intersection), allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to get all the way to 5th with no inter-modal conflict. An added benefit of moving Sandra Muraida is that it would put Sandra Muraida directly adjacent to the Lumberman's development just south of the railroad track and east of Lamar. Lumberman's plans to build commercial space on the South side of their development, and this would put the commercial/retail directly adjacent to Sandra Muraida, vastly increasing the value of this real estate, hence vastly increasing the amount of taxes the city can collect on it.
The real kicker on this deal is that the staffers who worked on the Seaholm plan seem to think that Lumberman's will begin building sooner rather than later, and because of the value this will add to their property, will temporarily assume the expense of moving Sandra Muraida Way. This would be a huge boon, as this means no bond would need to be used for this rather sizeable public works project, and the Lumberman's people could be paid back out of the property taxes collected on their now undeveloped, hence low dollar property. One staffer said that the construction on the new Sandra Muraida could begin as soon as 18 months from now.
So, do we proceed to build a bridge which is a reaction to some badly arranged car roads, or do we FIX the car roads so that they make sense first (using someone else's dime to boot) and THEN build our bridge? I would assume that a thinking person would agree that the latter makes more sense for the city as a whole. In fact, I would think that even a slightly brain-damaged person with one or two licks of common sense would agree that the latter option makes the most sense. Now there's the delicate matter of cost. The major complaint about the new LBPB is that it is estimated to cost $3 million dollars more than the old design. Even if this were true, the additional investment is well worth the total benefits which would accrue from being able to move Sandra Muraida, as indicated above and explained in a previous post. But in reality, these cost estimates are really up in the air. Yes, there will be additional engineering costs associated with redesigning the bridge extension, but the fact of the matter is that the new LBPB design has roughly 1/2 the number of linear feet of elevation, so one would think that the construction costs for the new design would actually be cheaper, if anything.
Bob, having not seen the Seaholm Master Plan yourself by your own admission, I'm hard pressed to see how you have enough information to call it "stinkbait". I have seen the plan, and the fact of the matter is that it is a good one: if implemented, the aesthetics of that area will improve dramatically, there will be much better mobility for pedestrians and bicyclists, and we will have a beautiful new museum. Further, the property tax revenues generated by the land around Seaholm will increase dramatically, providing more revenue for future public works projects. I must say, I'm really at a loss to explain the reactions of active members of the bicycling community to the Seaholm Plan. City Council was already very reluctant to provide the funds for the original LBPB extension due to the high cost and was already moving towards cutting it from the TEA-21 list before the Seaholm Plan ever came along. If anything, the Seaholm Plan will make it MORE likely that we eventually get our bridge. Sometimes you have to bend a little to get what you want - a blade of grass fairs far better in a hurricane than a tree does. Anyone who continues to stand behind the thoroughly dead original LBPB extension design is truly pissing in the wind at this point (note that I pointed this out WEEKS ago). Let's please stop talking about the old bridge design - it's deader than Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign.
By Eric Anderson, Sept. 3, 2004
Soon, first steps to be made to transform our "almost useless (to cyclists)" Pfluger Bridge into something that brings us closer to a facility that serves "multiple destinations on both sides of the river".
This month, the city appointed Community Advisory Group (CAG) will be meeting our second time, to discuss the 7-8 alternatives under consideration. A number of the alternatives can be seen at the COA Seaholm web-page. At least by our next CAG meeting?, HDR/Roma has promised the updated versions would be online.
Thanks to Jackie Goodman, architect Girard Kinney will assist HDR/ROMA this next meeting. Girard has steadfastly worked (+ volunteered!) on this project for now 13 years, and facilitated the 1997 -IDEA WORKSHOP- where the community came up with the double-helix design of the Pfluger Bridge.
I would like to say that of the 20 plus member CAG, 6-8 bicyclists and 3-4 south austin residents are going to do everything we can to insist on an extension that serves transportation cyclists (as well as...).
The -Flyunder Arm- is not my choice for a number of reasons. It should NOT be the extension considered for this phase for one reason alone: It is viewed as unacceptable by the handi-capped community given its excess length, and excessive grade changes (+/- 28 feet!!!).
I will make sure to post the upcoming meeting to the bike list..., there may be light at the end of the tunnel?
By Mike Dahmus, Sept. 4, 2004
It looks to me like most (or even all) of the options under discussion now require crossing the new alignment of Sandra Muraida at-grade, which will probably not be a controlled intersection given past experience with the city. If controlled at all, I can imagine a nice red stop-sign for the bicyclists (and no stop for the cars) as the city's first choice given engineering standards. In addition, the route then closely hugs a parking loop - meaning that its utility for transportation is going to be questionable as people jump out of their cars.
If this interpretation is true, this is a disaster for transportation cyclists - similar to the existing facility requiring Lamar corridor cyclists to cross Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida (existing alignment) as pedestrians.
After the Shoal Creek debacle, I'm amazed anybody can be optimistic about the result of a consensus-based planning process where the minimum bicycle goals are not written in stone (non-negotiable) - in that case, no parking in bike lanes; in this case, an attractive-enough design to be better for transportation than riding in the lane on Lamar Blvd.
By Jeb Boyt, Sept. 4, 2004
Several options would allow cyclists to travel through without crossing the realigned Sandra Muraida at grade.
The Pfluger Bridge CAG has only met once and has yet to actually analyze and discuss any of the possible alignments. At our next meeting, we will look at issues associated with the possible alignments including travel distance and any at-grade crossings.
How about we give the process a chance to examine what could be done?
Pfluger Bridge CAG member
By Eric Anderson, Dec. 1, 2004
Just to answer a few of David's questions, offer some comments:
1) I am assuming that the negotiations with "developers in the Seaholm District" have resulted in a -center/Bowie- alignment through the Gables project/ Lumberman's trust land.
2) By combining NE-2 and NE-3 I mean a NE-(center) arm heading directly toward site of Bowie underpass, crossing Sandra Muraida at controlled intersection, through Gables site, through Bowie underpass, and ideally coming to grade in two directions: left to Bowie/3rd, right toward Shoal Creek, Downtown, as the Lance Armstrong Bikeway.
3) Additional pathway alignments as depicted in NE-2 and NE-3 should be considered for district connectivity, as secondary pathways connecting E-W (Gables, Children's and Seaholm); or N-S (3rd and window to Shoal Creek, down hill to Seaholm, and intersection at Cesar Chavez)
4) If a Cesar Chavez LAB alignment remains, I will insist that Pfluger extension and LAB share alignment between Pfluger Bridge and 3rd.
5) Cesar Chavez LAB alignment still "makes no sense whatsoever", but short of efforts to revise plan at this late date, and a new bridge over Lamar south of the UP bridge, a Cesar Chavez LAB alignment seems likely.
6) If however, negotiations with "developers in the Seaholm District" have also resulted in adding this new bridge over Lamar south of the UP bridge, all bets re: LAB are off. This new bridge was identified as important in Seaholm Masterplan, and would facilitate desired vehicle access to the Gables/Children's Museum/Seaholm. If this wild-card appears on the table, Mike Dahmus, David Foster and I might insist on renewed discussion of my preferred LAB "northerly" alignment through UP (Amtrak) property, down hill behind YMCA, behinnd Town Lake Animal Shelter, and parallel to reserve drive.
Again, in closing: If Pfluger planners are unable to leverage this economic development and civic momentum toward a wildly successful Pfluger Bridge, we might as well just lay down and die!
By Eric Anderson, Feb. 3, 2006
Hello Pfluger Bridge Stakeholders:
I am happy to report that Austin City Council approved the Pfluger Bridge recommended "center arm" and all other related Gables/ Seaholm items at yesterday's February 2nd meeting. [See the Pfluger Bridge extension website.] Related news is that the intersection of 5th and Bowie has met "warrants". This means that desired signalized intersection here will happen as part of Pfluger center arm project if not before.
A lengthy hearing and discussion preceded council action on the Gables rezoning request, though council was not swayed by opposition's claim of developer subsidy, or other arguments, and unanimously approved on all three readings the Gables zoning request about 9 pm.
The rezoning of the COA crescent property was also approved, with a 60 ft height limit. The four other inter-related Seaholm District items (including roadway realignment, Pfluger Bridge center arm, parkland improvements and Master Agreement) were approved together at 11:14 pm, also by a 7-0 vote.
Council Member McCracken ticked off a list of reasons how the Gables project met ECT goals, would help build a future transit oriented district, help finish the Pfluger Bridge, enhance parkland etc. I believe that Council agreed with my contention that this was a "model agreement between the city and developer toward accomplishing multiple community goals". In part responding to the opposition, Gables added a $250,000 pledge to COA affordable housing trust fund.
Six years after the Pfluger Bridge was rebid without the planned and designed north-west arm, the approved center arm alignment clearly represents the best possible compromise, and may in fact be a superior solution. This new bicycle and pedestrian "main street" through the burgeoning Market District will link Whole Foods and Town Lake. Planned and expected Gables/ Spring/ Phoenix/ Schlosser/ ZOM/ Novare/ Green and Seaholm projects will define this mixed-use residential district, criss-crossed N-S and E-W by two state of the art bikeways, and at its center, the future intermodal transit station.
The wait may have been worth it?
Thanks for your continued interest and support,
By Mike Dahmus, Feb. 7, 2006
Related news is that the intersection of 5th and Bowie has met "warrants". This means that desired signalized intersection here will happen as part of Pfluger center arm project if not before.
This is great news, and was one of the primary reasons I was skeptical of the utility of the center-arm. I yield on this one! Eric was right to be optimistic, and I was wrong.
The remaining reasons to be skeptical, in case Eric has any more magic to pull out of his hat, were:
Eric, do you have any idea WHICH warrant they managed to meet at this intersection? That's always been the trick in getting intersections
signalized - picking one that might actually work, and as we learned on the UTC, the bicycle/pedestrian ones are essentially impossible.
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