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Bicycle Austin endorses Randi Shade

in the City Council place 3 June 2011 runoff election

Why we endorsed

We gave election endorsements for years, but when the League of Bicycling Voters (LOBV) appeared on the scene, we were only too happy to turn the job over to them starting in 2007.  But for this runoff election we came out of our retirement to make an endorsement again because we felt a closer look at the candidates was in order, for several reasons:
  1. We're faced with two exceptionally-qualified candidates, who sometimes appear more similar than different.
  2. This time around many of LOBV's questions seemed kind of ambiguous or touchy-feely and didn't seem help differentiate the candidates. (e.g., "What does bicycle safety mean to you?" and "How important are bicycling and walking?")
  3. Some, like transportation expert Mike Dahmus, opined that cyclists ought to be scrutinizing the candidates more closely on density issues, since density is what makes non-auto transportation viable.
  4. The fact that the election went into runoff meant that we had the time to take a second look.
We would never suggest that citizens base their decisions on who to vote for on just one issue, like transportation. But we do believe that citizens should consider a candidate's position on specific issues in forming their overall picture of the candidate. It is in that spirit that we offer our endorsement.

Why we chose Randi Shade

Voters are often faced between choosing between the lesser of two evils, but not in this race.  Both candidates are sharp, qualified, conscientious, and civic-minded.  Ultimately we chose Shade because:
  1. Shade speaks plainly and directly, with great clarity.  There's no question where she stands on an issue, and you don't have to parse a lot of fluff to figure it out.  Tovo is not as straightforward.  This distinction is important beyond simply figuring out whom to vote for:  once someone is elected, we want them to be able to explain what they're doing and why very clearly.  Here are some examples of the difference from LOBV's survey, showing the first sentence or two of responses to various questions.
    How important are bicycling and walking?

    Shade:  In a growing city like Austin, it is crucial that we facilitate multi‐modal transportation, to encourage and enable people to use every possible method to navigate our city. I want to foster more options for people who don’t want to drive....

    Tovo:  I believe that all modes of transportation must work together as an overall system to ensure mobility and accessibility for the community. The importance of each mode can be influenced by the area, length, and purpose of the trip....

    How often do you ride a bicycle on Austin's roadways?

    Shade: Not often, and when I do ride it is recreational.

    Tovo: I had occasional car‐free weekends in my pre‐parent years (I now have two small girls) with trips to the farmers market, the library, the grocery store, and other places in the central city.

    [Tovo tried to mask the fact that she doesn't currently ride by talking about her past riding, while Shade simply owned up about her non-riding.]
    This difference wasn't exclusive to LOBV's survey.  The same difference could be seen in the candidates' answers to other organizations' surveys.

  2. Shade is strong on bicycle issues.  In particular, she supports two things that few councilmembers would ever stick their necks out about:
    (a) Car-free bike lanes on Shoal Creek Blvd. (with parking on just one side of the street).
    (b) A sunset review of the bicycle helmet law for minors.  (See problems with the helmet law for why we support helmets but oppose the law.)
    In fact, it was action by previous councils that got us parking in bike lanes and a problematic helmet law, so Shade's willingness to revisit these ideas is all the more impressive.

  3. Shade strongly supports increased density.  Density is what makes non-auto transportation viable.  The more people in an area, the closer that home, work, and shopping is, which makes it easier to walk, bus, train, or bike.  The opposite is sprawl, with destinations spread farther apart, which makes car travel much more likely.  Neighborhood associations have a history of opposing density because they prefer the feel of houses to apartments and condos.  While houses might be nicer in that regard, we think it's important to do what's best for the city as a whole.  With strong ties to neighborhood associations, there's been some concerns that Tovo would side with them on density issues at the expense of the needs of the greater community.  Indeed Tovo opposed the Barton Creek PUD, while Shade supported it.

  4. Tovo didn't return our survey, even after we gave her more time.  When we sent out the survey on the 4th, we called both campaigns to make sure they got it, and both confirmed that they did.  Tovo's campaign didn't say that they weren't going to return it.  The deadline was the night of the 11th, and we got Shade's answers but not Tovo's.  We called Tovo's campaign the morning of the 12th to inquire about that, saying that we'd be willing to accept a late survey if they could return it soon.  They said that someone would call us back shortly.  That didn't happen.  We called again in the evening, and the person we spoke agreed that they'd let us know later that night whether they'd be able to return the survey the next day.  He complained about our not giving enough time, and asked, "Wasn't the deadline the 4th?"  We replied, "No, we sent the survey on the 4th, and the deadline was a week later, on the 11th."   He complained again about the timeframe, and assured me that someone would get back to me that night one way or the other about whether they'd be able to participate.  Again, that didn't happen.  The next day I got an email from a campaign staffer, again complaining that I hadn't gotten the surveys out sooner.
In addition, my earlier conversation with the Tovo staffer was just bizarre.  It went something like this:
Tovo staffer:  About this question [No. 3], "Please name as many examples as you can of instances in which you disagreed with the position of a neighborhood association, and why,"  what does that mean?

Bicycle Austin:'s not exceptionally clear to you?

Tovo staffer:  No, what does that even mean?  And why would you even ask a question like that?
We're too flabbergasted about that one to even comment on it.

If Tovo's campaign is stumped about that question, I suggest they see Shade's excellent answer to it.
By the way, the Bicycle Austin editor was personally disappointed in Shade's support of Water Treatment Plant No. 4, but as that's not specifically related to transportation, we didn't consider it for endorsement purposes.

Finally, we're disappointed that many have criticized Shade for continuing to the runoff rather than bowing out of the race, to save the city the cost of the election.  Our feeling is the democratic process is the first thing we should be paying for.  That's the one thing you don't skimp on.  Shade earned her right to the runoff and has a good chance of winning.  She deserves her shot in the election, and her supporters deserve the opportunity to vote for her.  Really, if there's any blame to place here, it should be with the Texas Legislature, whose archaic laws don't allow Austin to hold Instant-Runoff voting which make actual runoffs unnecessary.

Randi Shade's answers

1. Bicycle infrastructure.  How do you differ from your opponent on improving Austin's bicycle infrastructure?
I have a strong record of support for transportation policies that enable multi-modal options and reduce dependency on private automobiles. At every opportunity, I have voted for increased connectivity and maximum pass-through. I voted for our Safe Passing ordinance, and I seconded the motion to put Prop 1 on the ballot. I also support efforts to let businesses like Casa de Luz require less parking to accommodate their more multi-model customer base. In 2009 I helped create the Bike Theft Task Force to address an increase in bike thefts. It was a great opportunity to work with leaders in the cycling community to look for solutions to help keep cyclists on the road.  Here’s a link.

My opponent, on the other hand, has been endorsed by many of the people who have fought against completing our bike lanes and trail network, especially around Lady Bird Lake, and who oppose the kind of central city density that helps make public transit and bicycle commuting more possible. We also differ on the new parking rates downtown. I voted for the staff’s proposal for several reasons: increased revenue for public safety, way finding, and signage; decreased emissions and time wasted from people circling while looking for free parking; and hopefully additional transition that fosters more multi-modal forms of transit.
2. Density.  How do you differ from your opponent on building/population density issues?
I have a great record of supporting sensible, appropriate density in our central city and along transit corridors. Conversely, my opponent has frequently opposed in-fill and dense central development. 

For example, I voted FOR South Shore PUD and Park PUD, both of which had strong support from the cycling community. It is crucial that we enable more people to live and work close to the center of our city, and depend less on personal cars. My opponent not only opposed both projects, she was actively involved in trying to stop them, both as a neighborhood activist and as a member of the Planning Commission. If elected, she would present a serious obstacle to greater density in the central city, which is needed to both address affordability and reduce dependency on individual vehicles.
3. Neighborhood Associations, past.  Please name as many examples as you can of instances in which you disagreed with the position of a neighborhood association, and why.
It is important to draw several distinctions in answering this question. Neighborhood Associations are not the same as neighborhoods and the neighbors who live in them. Furthermore, not all Neighborhood Associations approach issues the same way.  I have seen several examples of cases where an association’s position was in conflict with another group of neighbors, or even with an overlapping association. In each instance I try and look at the project in question and ascertain what is in the best interest of Austin as a whole.

In several high-profile cases, this has caused me to cast my vote against the position of an association or against the Austin Neighborhood Council, but again, in many of these same instances I have also supported other neighbors or even other neighborhood associations that are in conflict. The most notable example was the South Shore PUD, the project east of I-35 along Lake Shore Drive. The project will bring numerous benefits to the area, better transit among them. The PUD guaranteed a permeable project with bike lanes, through streets and density for a potential rail node through what is now virtually a gated community. While many neighborhood activists -- including my opponent -- opposed the project, I felt the gains for the entire community were definitive. (Notably, many leaders of the so-called “Save Town Lake” group that opposed bike access along Lady Bird Lake and opposed South Shore PUD are among the strongest supporters of my opponent.) I took a similar stance on the revised version of the Park PUD and on several other key projects. On a recent historic zoning case I voted against the neighborhood association’s desire to zone a house historic against the homeowner’s wishes and against the staff’s recommendation.  The house did not meet the criteria for historic zoning, so I was not comfortable using that sort of zoning change as a neighborhood planning tool, especially given the fact that a few months earlier we had voted to approve a local historic district for that same neighborhood, something that is designed to help with neighborhood preservation.

I have supported neighborhood associations in instances when I felt additional density would truly be onerous or where factual environmental concerns outweighed other interests. For example, I did not support The Wildflower Commons Project because it did not adhere to our tougher new ordinance pertaining to development over the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. I supported the neighborhood association position on the recent case before Council that called for a left-turn lane off of 2222 near Hwy 360.  I didn’t’ feel that the safety benefits offered by the proposal from staff and the property owner improved the safety already offered by the existing U-turn option and I wasn’t willing to gamble on safety in favor of convenience.  I also typically support valid petitions, and I sponsored the resolution to give neighborhood planning contact teams standing. And, I took the lead in ensuring that even in a tough budget situation we got a Music Office up and running to help with sound mitigation challenges between music venues and neighborhood groups.  The office is small but already proving to be helpful in many of these contentious cases.

I try to l look at each item before Council with an open mind and remember that I represent all of Austin, not just a vocal few; however well organized they happen to be.  I listen to subject experts, individual citizens, neighbors, neighborhood associations and developers alike.  I listen to all sides and vote based on facts.  Pedestrian and bike access are always a factor in my deliberations and on several occasion my office has asked for tweaks to existing plans for better transit options before an item reached its final reading at Council.
4. Neighborhood Associations, future.  Under what circumstances would you oppose the position of a neighborhood association?  (What is your criteria?)
You are the first organization to ever formally ask me for my criteria in a land use case. Thank you for this opportunity.  I don’t use a specific punch list, but I do think about the following issues in most cases:
  • Surrounding zoning/FLUM – how does this project comply with the neighborhood plan/future land use map? If not, does it accomplish Council goals?
  • Does this accomplish goal of infill and existing resources?
  • Does this discourage sprawl?
  • Does this encourage development within the City limits?
  • Proximity to density, mix of uses, and relationship to reduction of travel
  • Is this re-development or new development? What is there now? Can we do better? What about water quality?
  • Open space in exchange for density? Recreational facilities?
  • What do all the “extras” cost? As a result of these costs, what is the impact on affordability?
I try to look at the big picture, but also at the impact on those living nearest a project. I ask myself how I would feel to have “this” next door to me.  An individual citizen who expresses a concern such as "this project will tower over my house" carries a lot more weight with me than a group of people voicing general opposition to growth or change.  Then, I think about the big picture. Is this a good place for density? Will my vote bring better transit and walk ability to an area? Is this the right place for the proposed use? For instance, a CS-1 (serving alcohol) zoning is not same downtown as it is in a single family area deep in the suburbs. Will a given project enhance and enliven a dead street, or cause a traffic nightmare for everyone? Is this sprawl, or am I capturing a higher use for the urban fabric here?

I also strongly consider the rights of a property owner to control their property and I often weigh the gains for our tax base against the cost of services, (utilities, traffic etc.) Again, transit, including bike transit, also factors into my deliberations.

Overall, I base my votes on the objective criteria for each project, and consider the facts of each case, rather than just voting along with the opposition or support of organized groups.
5. Parking in bike lanes.
Incredibly, it is legal for cars to park in many bike lanes in Austin, rendering them useless for their intended purpose. One supposes that in more enlightened communities, it's the actual bicycles that get first dibs on bike lanes, not cars.

Would you vote to prohibit cars from parking in bike lanes?

Yes  No  √ Other

While I am not ready to support banning cars from parking in bike lanes, I do think we could do more in terms of education on this issue.
I’d support efforts to flier cars in bike lanes or issue a series of warnings before ticketing vehicles. Ideally, I’d prefer to have bike lanes in addition to parking lanes, with enough room for car doors to open without intruding on the bike lane.

In the bike lanes where it's illegal for cars to park, enforcement is spotty at best. Many times we've seen a police cruiser pass one or more cars parked in a bike lane, taking no action. By contrast we know cyclists who have been arrested and gone to jail for minor traffic infractions such as bicycling on the sidewalk, running a red light, or biking without a helmet.

How would you improve enforcement of the no-parking in bike lanes rule where it exists?
Please see above -- I support greater education, even on a windshield-to-windshield basis to help inform drivers, and would be open to considering a series of warnings before ticketing.
6. Shoal Creek Blvd.
Council affirmed that it's perfectly fine for cars to park in the bike lanes on Shoal Creek Blvd., ignoring national safety guidelines and the advice of its own staff. Staff and cyclists favor the common-sense plan of having parking on just one side of the street, freeing up enough room for a car-free bike lane on each side of the road. Here's a 6-minute movie of the presentation we gave to council on this issue, as well as more background information.

Would you support staff's plan for Shoal Creek to have parking on one side of the road and car-free bike lanes in both directions?

√ Yes   No   Other

If you think the Shoal Creek represents a "compromise" (as it has been popularly misrepresented), then what exactly do you think motorists gave up, and what exactly did cyclists gain?

Shoal Creek was not a compromise because all sides were not given a chance to weigh in substantively during the planning process. Citizens were only able to comment when it was on the dias for a vote. We need to engage people much earlier in the process, as our city’s neighborhood connectivity  division does such a good job of now.

The only benefit from this experience was that it created a really positive process that we used for Expositin and Chicon, which should help mitigate these problems in the future. I hope that when Shoal Creek is up for resurfacing we can resolve this and re-line the roads in a way that balances the needs of all of our road users.

[Editor's note:  Point of fact, the Shoal Creek process a substantive public input process.  We know, because we attended one of the town hall meetings.  The reason that the Shoal Creek outcome wasn't a compromise was not that we didn't get a chance to weigh in, it's that we didn'tget anything.  We had parking in bike lanes before, and we have parking in bike lanes now.  In a true compromise each side gives up something, which the other side gets.  In the Shoal Creek case, cyclists got nothing.  (more on this issue)]

Feel free to share any other comments or thoughts on the Shoal Creek Blvd. issue.

Yes, I would follow staff’s recommendations and respect the public input process that was developed after the Shoal Creek problems to address these concerns. Shoal Creek happened before I was elected, and from what staff has told me, it was a very contentious process in which insufficient input was solicited from stakeholders. As a result, the City hired staff to help engage Austinites in a consistent manner going forward. The resulting process worked well on Exposition Boulevard and Chicon, and seems like a good way to balance the needs of all road users while addressing our traffic problems and increasing multi-modal transit options. Even though there will still be contention and discussion, we know the City has  a process, and a way to plug in the neighbors and residents who want to get involved. Staff tells me that best part of this process has been hearing from majority of neighbors who support one-side parking.

Thankfully, we also have  many more tools, such as sharrows, to help increase connectivity and add to our bicycling infrastructure. Austin is a member of NACTO, and we contributed a lot of positive ideas to their new guidebook, something I’m very proud of. We’ve come a long way in 5-6 years to help make Austin a leader in bicycle infrastructure.

7. Helmet ordinance.
Many people have reservations about the helmet ordinance because the last time anyone checked, over 90% of the no-helmet tickets given to kids were given to black and Hispanic kids, and because many believe that getting kids to wear helmets should be the responsibility of parents, not the police.  Helmet laws have also been shown to reduce the number of cyclists, making cycling more dangerous for those who continue to ride, and some research has suggested that cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to get hit by cars, which could partially explain why as helmet use went up in the 1990s, head injuries among cyclists skyrocketed. (More on helmets and helmet laws from

Do you support a local helmet law for...

Kids  Adults  Both  √ Neither  Other

I support a sunset review of the under-18 helmet law, and I support further study related to the correlation between helmet laws and getting more bicyclists on the road.  I’ve seen some studies that show mandatory helmet laws create a stigma that cycling is unsafe, and as a result less people ride. I’ve also been educated by members of the bike community about how mandatory helmet laws seem to put the onus for safety on bicyclists, rather than a shared commitment between all road users. This suggests to me that we don’t need a mandatory helmet law as much as we need more education for drivers and cyclists alike, about the need to share our roads, and provide a safe commuting and traveling space for everyone.

Personally, I will always make my two children (Ethan, age 5, and Emme, age 2.5) wear helmets. I want them to want to wear their helmets to protect them from other people who may not be on the look-out for bicyclists on the road. However, when they are older if they are not wearing them on the three-block ride down the street to Galaxy Café or Nau’s, I don’t think they necessarily need to be cited by the police.

8. Bus system.  How can the bus system be improved?  What role would you take in that?

Clearly we need to improve our bus system. The question is how, with limited resources, to address issues pertaining to bus frequency, range and area of operations, hours of service, special-needs users, and choice commuters, just to name a few. Do we put more buses in underserved areas, or focus on increasing the frequency in major travel paths? It's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem -- more people would ride if the routes were more direct, but the routes that end up getting improved upon are the ones that already have good ridership.

Two ideas that could have an immediate impact and reap long-term benefits are dedicated lanes and improved data streams.

Dedicated lanes along major traffic arteries at rush hour would create an incentive to take the bus, rather than crawl down MoPac for 45 minutes. Dedicated lanes help with congestion all around, even for those who choose to continue to drive their cars. Dedicated lanes and a faster ride can help create more choice commuters. Choice commuters are key to the long-term financial health of CapMetro. We can’t run a bus service that serves predominantly the bus-dependent population—it’s simply not viable.

CapMetro can also accelerate their plans to put GPS sensors on top of buses, stream the data, and operate a website or smartphone app that provides real-time data on when the next bus is coming, locate nearby bus stops, plan a route, etc. This would take a lot of the guess-work out of riding the bus, when riders don’t know if a bus is running early or late, or even what the schedule for that stop is. This app might also help create a greater culture of accountability for buses being on time and on schedule. While our overall on-time statistics are strong, there are still too many instances of buses leaving before their scheduled stop times, stranding riders.
9. Urban Rail.  Please answer as specifically as possible whether you support trains running inside the urban core, and if so, what role you would take in making that happen.
Austin is growing, and is going to continue to grow.  We can plan wisely for this and I’m very concerned about how we will move the next 30,000 people in and out of downtown. I support rail as part of the solution to our traffic problems, and I foresee a time when urban rail will make sense for our City. Rail is going to be very expensive, however, and requires participation of regional partners and key stakeholders such as the University of Texas and State Government. 

Any plan needs to be about more than just traffic reduction, and must support economic development and housing goals. I need to see a sensible business plan before endorsing urban rail. At this time, I have not seen a plan that suggests that it will be economically viable, and will attract the ridership needed to be sustainable.
10. Car parking requirements.  Parking space requirements for businesses work against density goals and are a significant obstacle for small businesses in central Austin. Also, about 12 bikes can be parked in the space used to park a single car.  Would you be willing to reduce the amount of car parking that regulations currently require?
√ Yes   No   Other

Yes, especially when a business is actively catering to pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders. Areas such as Barton Springs Road, 2nd Street, and the Drag cater to these kinds of customers. We need to approach parking requirements holistically, and factor in businesses whose customers who depend on multi-modal transit options. 
11. CAMPO Reform.  Are you willing to oppose the current representation of the federally-sanctioned CAMPO body, with its overwhelming share of officials representing areas and districts lying outside Austin, even though Austin has most of the area's population?
Yes   No   √ Other

CAMPO has just been restructured and this was addressed.
  I don’t serve on CAMPO and do not feel informed enough to weigh in on this question without further inquiry.  I am happy to follow up, though.

[Editor's note:  The 2009 restructure of CAMPO addressed this issue slightly.  Austin and Travis County together had 7 out of 15 city/county seats before, and has 7 out of 14 seats now.  While this isn't ideal, at least Austin is no longer in the minority.  In any event, we won't be asking this particular question again.]
12. Personal bicycle use.  How often do you ride a bicycle?
Unfortunately I don’t ride a bike very often at the moment, with two young children and a busy career. However, I will strongly encourage my two kids to ride bikes, and I’m very interested in creating bicycle facilities that work for riders at all skill levels. I support improvements to help more kids bike safely to school.

I also want to make sure our transportation policies take into account the many Austinites who rely on bicycling as their only way to get to work and make ends meet. Anything we can do to improve our multi-modal transit options will have a positive impact, not only on mobility, but also on people’s pocket books.
Other Comments.
I am proud to have the support of several leaders in the bicycle community (Council member Chris Riley, Leslie Luciano) and many leaders in Austin's urbanist and smart-growth community (Scott Polikov, Glenn Gadbois, Jeb Boyt) just to name a few, as well as strong environmentalists (Mary Ann Neely, Jim Marston, Mike Blizzard). I would be honored to receive your endorsement as well, to continue working together on a cleaner, greener Austin.

(Kathie Tovo did not return our survey, even after we gave her more time)