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Car-Free Bike Lanes:

M. Bluejay's Presentation to City Council

March 2006


This is text of the presentation I made to the Austin City Council on March 2, 2006, trying unsuccessfully to get them to approve car-free bike lanes on Shoal Creek Blvd. As soon as I can figure out how to do so, I'll make a Flash movie to show all 41 slides.

Hello, Councilmembers. I'm Michael Bluejay, I run, [slide] which received a Best of Austin award from the Austin Chronicle, and my site [slide] has been translated into several languages and used by groups all over the world. I've also biked on Shoal Creek Blvd. for twenty years now, and I'm assuming most of you haven't bicycled on Shoal Creek, at least not during rush hour, [slide] because if you had then I don't think you'd be poised to approve this dangerous striping plan.

Plans compared

Here's what we have now which is what you're set to approve. [slide] Unlimited parking on both sides of the street, in the bike lanes. The problems with this are that it's dangerous, [slide] it violates national safety standards, [slide] it goes against the recommendations of your own staff, [slide] and it opens the City up to liability. [slide] And of course it makes the bike lanes pointless if cars can park in them.

But there's an easy alternative: Have parking on just one side of the street, which leaves plenty of room for a car-free bike lane on each side of the road. [slide] This provides more than adequate parking, and of course safe travel for cyclists. This is what your own staff recommends and is also the conclusion of the state agency the Texas Transportation Institute. And by the way in your packet is a petition signed by about 100 Austinites who also support it, including former State Representative Glen Maxey.

Why dangerous

So let's look at why your agenda item is so dangerous. Cyclists trying to get around parked cars have two options: They can stay close to the parked car, in which case they risk getting The Door Prize when a motorist unexpectedly opens their door in the biker's path [slide] , or if they veer into the traffic lane then they risk getting run over from behind.[slide] Here's a child on Shoal Creek trying to manuever around a parked car and faced with those same two deadly choices. [slide]

The Door Prize

Okay, so let's take a look at some cyclists who were killed by The Door Prize.[slide]

  • Samuel Hernandez of Santa Ana, California. He was killed when he biked into an open car door, knocking him into traffic where he was hit by a car coming from behind. He was 19 years old.
  • Chantal Malard of Montreal, same deal: Hit the open door, fell into traffic, got run over by another vehicle.
  • Eugene Chang of San Francisco. Didn't get run over by another car but didn't need to, he died when his neck slammed into the top of the car door.
  • Clyde Moss of Manhattan, same deal as the first, doored off his bike and into the path of an oncoming truck. He was 52.
  • Rosemare Brodie, age 33, also of Manhattan, also dead, doored off her bike and into the path of a van.

Other cyclists killed by the same hazard you're set to approve are:

  • Brian Wong of Toronto, age 29
  • [slide] Keith Provost, the actor, age 40,
  • [slide] Dana Laird of Cambridge, Massachussetts, age 36,
  • Laura Cox of New Orleans, age 33,
  • [slide] Elizabeth Padilla, of Manhattan, age 28,
  • and others I don't have time to list.

So this isn't just theoretical, people DIE from this.

Veering into traffic

Okay, well, of course, as a cyclist you don't have to ride in the door zone, you can risk your life in another way by venturing into the traffic lane. And here's what it looks like when you do. [slide] Notice the motorist illegally crossing the double yellow line on Shoal Creek in order to get around the cyclist. [slide] And this motorist is driving completely in the oncoming traffic lane. [slide]

And cyclists DO get hurt on Shoal Creek. The Austin police department tells me there have been injury accidents on Shoal Creek among bikers every single year for the last several years.

Hogging the lane

Also notice that the current design isn't just bad for cyclists, it's also bad for motorists, because they've got all these damn bikers in their way, making them nervous and slowing them down. [slide] But give the cyclists a true bike lane like your staff is recommending and then traffic moves much more freely for everyone. [slide]

No Compromise

Now, the popular myth is that the current plan was a compromise between various stakeholders. Here's why that's absolutely untrue:
  • [slide] What we had before: Parking in bike lanes
  • [slide] What we have now: Parking in bike lanes
  • [slide] What's on your agenda for approval for the future: Parking in bike lanes

I want to quote Mike Dahmus on this subject, a former member of the Urban Transportation Commission. He says: [slide]

"People continue to misrepresent this process as a compromise.... In fact, any rational observer can compare conditions before this change to conditions now and make the following judgement: Parking won. Period. Cyclists got less than they had before, and far less than they should have had. The neighborhood got curb extensions..... Cyclists got the middle finger." -- Transportation expert Mike Dahmus

Okay, I know that you already decided to remove the curb islands, and that's fine, but Mr. Dahmus' point was that the striping we got can't be called a compromise because cyclists didn't actually GET anything.

Here's another way to look at it, if you approve current striping then here's how the priorities look to me:

  • [slide] The traffic lanes are for cars.
  • [slide] And people's driveways are for cars. And...
  • [slide] The BIKE LANES are for cars.
  • [slide] Hello?

Where is the balance?


The City also needs to consider the liability if it goes the unsafe route.
  • [slide] In 2000 bicyclist Donald Hallsten was paralyzed following a crash and won a four-and-a-half million dollar judgement against the City of Chicago for unsafe roadways.
  • The Bicycle Transportation Alliance sued the City of Portland for failing to include car-free bike lanes on a new road, and the Oregon Supreme Court decided the case in the bicyclists' favor.
  • [slide] reports that a cyclist crashed in an poorly maintained bike lane and successfully sued a California city for $1,000,000.
  • [slide] And, best for last, Hannah Evans successfully sued the City of Toronto two years ago after getting doored, alleging that the City had been negligent in making sure the roadway was safely designed for all users.

There are more cases of cyclists suing cities on

Now, the first thing the lawyers ask is, "Did you follow the standards?" I don't think you want to be in the position of saying, "No, we ignored the national AASHTO safety guidelines and the advice of our own staff because some of the neighbors thought that unlimited parking on one side of the street wasn't good enough for them."

Convenience vs. Safety

Many neighbors would like parking right in front of their house. Me, I'd like to not get KILLED while bicycling on Shoal Creek. And that's what this comes down to: The neighbors and the cyclists have different wants, but they're not equal wants. Which is more important: CONVENIENCE, or SAFETY? [slide] I'd like to repeat it again: What's more important: CONVENIENCE, or SAFETY?

So to summarize:

  • The current design is dangerous (cyclists risk getting doored or veering out into traffic)
  • It violates national safety standards
  • Your own staff is telling you not to do it
  • Approving it opens the City up to liability
  • And there is a simple alternative that solves all these problems and provides for a safe roadway

If you do decide to approve this item then I hope you can answer the following questions for us:

  • [slide] Why is it that you think parking on one side of the street does not provide more than adequate parking?
  • [slide] Why is it a good idea for cars to park in bike lanes?
  • [slide] Why are you ignoring the recommendation of your own Staff?
  • [slide] Why do you think it is important to violate AASHTO safety guidelines?
  • [slide] What purpose is being served that is so crucial that it justifies opening the city up to liability?

[Note: I presented each Councilmember with a printed list of these questions. They all ignored them, except Leffingwell, who made a half-hearted argument that the car-free bike lanes might somehow be just as dangerous as the car-filled bike lanes. Go figure.]

Thank you for your time. [slide]





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