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Bicycle Lanes

Are bike lanes good or bad?

We have information for and against bike lanes on BicycleUniverse.

It's legal for cars to park in many bike lanes.

Until the late 1990's, it was legal for cars to park in most bike lanes in the City. That's been slowing changing, as the City has been quietly banning parking from some bike lanes, one roadway at a time (or at least putting some restrictions on parking), such as on Duval St. Also, the City often stripes in new bike lanes whenever it's doing routine resurfacing of a street anyway, and parking is generally prohibited from those bike lanes.

The City Council has never showed an interest in banning parking in bike lanes, although we've asked them over the years. At one point it looked like we were getting close, but then the Shoal Creek debacle set us back by years. The City caved in to the neighborhood's demands, setting a big precedent that cyclists' safety doesn't matter.

Parks Board members have also objected to creating new bike lanes because in some cases it would create more impervious cover. (groan). writes on 12-19-02: "[t]his automatic aversion of the Parks Board to impervious cover is why we don't have bike lanes on Barton Springs road through Zilker Park. They preferred the quixotic approach of instead suggesting that two car lanes be removed..."

If you see cars illegally parked in one of the bike lanes that's actually posted "No Parking", you can call the police Traffic division at 974-5370 (or after hours, the police non-emergency number: 311). Also, Waterloo Cycles (2815 Fruth) has little "tickets" you can put under windshield wipers of cars parked in bike lanes, telling motorists that they parked in a bike lane and politely asking them not to. And here are some additional restrictions on parking in general.

Cost of Striping Bike Lanes. The City's Bicycle Program has been to getting new bike lanes installed when the City happens to be resurfacing a road anyway. This allows the money to come from the regular budget for fixing up roads, and not the Bicycle Program's budget, which is tiny. When a cyclist complained that Lake Austin Blvd. got new bike lanes in 9-00 when Duval Rd. in North Austin needed them more, a Bicycle Program staffer explained the economics behind the decision:

The restriping on Lake Austin was free because of the construction. To resurface Duval road and repaint with bike lanes would cost about $51,000. That's slurryseal at .20/sq ft, paint at .10/linear ft, bike stencils at ~$20 each. I haven't accounted for crosswalks, stop lines, arrows, "onlys", signs, or pavement buttons. This is for a 44-foot wide street, 5400 feet (approx. from Whispering Valley to Mopac). Small change, perhaps, for a city, but a big chunk for a city's Bike Program. Not to mention the fact that we don't just have crews sitting around waiting for people to tell them what street to resurface next. These jobs are done by contractors, bid out and planned well in advance, etc. we are working with street and bridge to try to get streets on their list that we can restripe to be more bike friendly. However, they have a budget too, and can't always include streets whose pavement still has useful life remaining. -- Eric Ziegler, 10-3-00

Okay for electric bikes to use bike lanes. In June 2000, outgoing city councilmember Bill Spelman sponsored a successful resolution to allow electric-powered bicycles to use bike lanes in Austin. (Under state law, anything with a motor is considered a motor vehicle, and motor vehicles are otherwise prohibited from "driving" in bike lanes.) 

Planning for Bicycle Lanes   by , May 1, 2003

(1) If every single street in Austin had bike lanes or sharrows, is that a good thing? Just from a transportation point of view, are bike lanes or sharrows ever bad for cyclists and/or motorists? Forget the backlash of retrofitting, the cost of retrofitting, the added ROW needed, etc... If you had a perfect world and you were able to snap your fingers and every street got one without any pain to anyone else, are there cases where you wouldn't want them?

(2) If they are never bad, then the decision on how to retrofit streets comes down to priorities. I'm seeing 4 considerations on this based on the discussion

a) Urgency of need for bikelanes/sharrows in the Burbs versus central city

b) Urgency on a particular street based on safety concerns

c) Potential backlash or citizen opposition (see SCB)

d) Whether there is a suitable alternate route

e) Cost (call it bang for the buck)

Until we have a coherent message on how we (as a biking political force) prioritize these things, every single bike lane discussion is going to degenerate like this one has [the debate over whether and how to put bike lanes on Guadalupe & Lavaca]. I watched Tommy try and propose a set of bike lane priority criteria at a UTC meeting a year or two ago. It went nowhere. And now we're back at throwing stones at each other again and getting nothing done.

This is a complex problem. It doesn't just involve transportation. Do we always go for the perfect bike lane even if it's 10x more expensive than the imperfect one? Do we go after "easy" streets even if they aren't the most dangerous? Do we push for one unpopular bike lane or spend our political capital on getting budget for 5 that are popular. I'd rather see a group of people who know the political system figure this out and then I'll stick with whatever they go for. But everyone pulling in different directions just keeps us standing still.

Folks, you can come up with arguments NOT to do just about anything. You are NEVER going to have a project that everyone loves.

Hell, this isn't even LRT. It's a STUPID BIKE LANE!

Questioning the importance of bike lanes on Guadalupe & Lavaca   by , April 30, 2003

[This is what Mike Dahmus submitted to the Austin City Council.]

I'm a part-time cyclist and part-time driver who sits on the UTC with Tommy, and I respectfully disagree with his position on bicycle lanes downtown. Due to work and childcare issues, I won't be able to speak at the meeting. I believe the position I hold represents fairly well the perspective of the cyclists who operate outside the immediate center-city area, as well as the perspective of cyclists who also drive. I would wager that relatively few of those people will be able to speak at the meeting either; and thus, you may be getting a fairly non-representative sample of opinion. My bicycle route to work currently takes me down Guadalupe in the morning and up Lavaca in the evening; so I feel quite qualified to assess the route's usability compared to the suburban routes I've had to take to work at various times.

More in-depth discussion why I think this is a bad idea was already posted to the austin-bikes list, and is available upon request; I have condensed to the essential minimum here:

1. The bicyclist in question (whose death is the impetus for this move) was riding on the sidewalk, even though he was supposedly an expert cyclist. We cannot protect cyclists who ought to know better from their own bad decisions. Additionally, this was at night; and he may not have had lights.

2. Guadalupe and Lavaca's automobile traffic is currently slow enough that most national bike facilities experts would not recommend even a wide outside lane as an appropriate bicycle facility, much less bike lanes. Traffic is held to a maximum of 25 mph (usually much slower) by signalization; which is a perfectly adequate speed for adult cycling in traffic.

3. Bike lanes on one-way streets with short blocks present additional problems with turning at intersections (not my contribution; but I think it's a valid issue).

4. Nearby parallel routes exist with very light automobile traffic (nearby meaning less than 3 blocks away).

5. Our city's bicycle funding and 'attention' should be spent where the biggest problems are - the outlying parts of the city of Austin (where parallel routes as in #4 are miles rather than blocks away).

6. More practically, it is a bad idea to push for a plan which results in the loss of a car lane or a parking lane downtown; this will result in backlash which could impact other, more worthy, bicycle projects in the future.

As a cyclist and a driver, I ask you not to support a move which would install bicycle lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca.

Thanks for your time,

Mike Dahmus

Meeting about resolving the issue of bike lanes on Guadalupe & Lavaca
by , May 14, 2003

In an attempt to reach a broader consensus on Tommy Eden's proposal for Bike Lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca in the CBD, the following people met at Scholz's Garten, this past Tuesday night (5/13) at 7:30pm: Tommy Eden, Bob Farr, Patrick Goetz, Stuart Werbner, Lane Wimberly, Michael Zakes.
After clarifying the fact that Tommy's current proposal calls for bicycle lanes to be added in the normal course of road resurfacing (and not "immediately" using Great Streets money), coupled with Tommy's insistence that something was needed on Guadalupe and Lavaca, there seemed to be an emerging consensus for the proposed bike lanes.
However, Michael Zakes raised some concerns about the bike lanes solution. The point that seemed most convincing to me was the concern that we'd create more bike lanes like the current southbound lane on The Drag. Everytime I ride that in rush hour and on weekends, there are fossil fuel burning vehicles double-parked "temporarily"; vehicles opening doors into it from their parking spaces (and at the same time yelling at >>me<< to be more vigilant); vehicles using it as a right turn lane; buses riding in it, fixing to pull into a stop, etc...
Call me a wuss, experienced cyclist as I am, but I have found all of that somewhat intimidating, and feel safer now bypassing The Drag, and riding southbound on Lamar between 34th and where The Tavern is/was.
Michael's point was that since the bike lanes would rarely be a car-free zone anyway, that its effectiveness would be in some doubt, and that it may not be very attractive to novice cyclists. Why not propose something that acknowledges this reality?
His counterproposal was for sharrows on both Guadalupe and Lavaca. I believe the suggestion was for sharrows in the far left and right lanes. Also, parking would be taken out on one side between 15th and 18th on Guadalupe. I believe this is due to the narrowness of the roadway in this section. [Perhaps other limited sections of either roads may lose parking on one side as well, but most of the parking, overall, would remain. Further analysis would be needed on this point.]
Also, it is likely that the sharrows would be implemented much more quickly than the bike lanes, since they are less expensive (than the fairly inexpensive bike lanes, even), and less controversial since they would not result in the loss of a travel lane.
Another argument against bike lanes was the concern that if they were installed, say on the right sides of Guadalupe and Lavaca, then cyclists riding in the left lanes, fixing to make a left turn, would be harassed by motorists for not being in the bike lane. While I agree that this might happen, I am not sure how much concern this should merit -- to me this kind of argument appears to be close to appeasement of boorish motorist behavior. No solution is going to be ideal; not even sharrows, assuming that they live up to their promise.
But, in the interests of establishing a wider consensus, we reached an agreement to propose sharrows for Guadalupe and Lavaca in the CBD. This is in spite of the fact that there may have been enough city council support for bike lanes. Also, this is in spite of the fact that sharrows are largely unproven in Austin. However, given the heavy traffic and relatively low speeds on these roads, sharrows may prove to be successful under these conditions, and we are willing to stand behind them at the council hearing on May 22.
Tommy has promised to establish a time-certain (caution: this is somewhat of a misnomer) for the May 22nd hearing for 6pm.
Anyone reading this note is welcome to participate in the discussion, regardless of your own opinion. Please attend the Political Pedal on Friday, and stay tuned to this newsgroup for further details and updates.
Oh, one other point I forgot to make was that it may be possible to add the sharrows when normal >> re-striping << is done, as opposed to re-surfacing (when bike lanes would be added). This difference is fairly significant, since re-striping normally occurs more often than re-surfacing.

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