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Economist says development of Bike Boulevard could bring economic boost

Friday, June 25, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Setting aside space for two-wheelers along a stretch of Downtown streets could bring some extra money to merchants along Austin’s proposed the Bicycle Boulevard.


According to a study commissioned by the city, proposed bicycle-friendly improvements along Rio Grande and Nueces streets could provide a $2.6-$5.6 million boost in indirect, induced, and direct economic activity in that corridor. The effort suggests that the project could also provide a “modest” bump in job hours. 


The estimates are for figures that would be accumulated over a 10-year period. They were revealed as part of a larger presentation that also offered the City Council an animated visual take of the effort. If all goes according to schedule, work on the first phase of construction could begin this winter.


Economist Angelos Angelou told Council members that his approach was extremely conservative. “In this particular case, our assumption was that bicyclists will increase over time at the same rate—namely about 29 percent—which was the rate of growth for the last 10 years,” he explained. “To the contrary, we believe that there will be a larger increase than that because the very nature of the project is to make this corridor more friendly to bicyclists.”


In the text of his presentation, Angelou noted that “considering the experiences of other cities with similar projects, this is likely to have a very positive impact on property values, retail sales, and quality of life.”


There had been some neighborhood concern over what was viewed as a negative fiscal impact for businesses along Nueces Street.


When it came time for questions, both Council members Chris Riley and Laura Morrison focused not so much about the economics involved, but about more pedestrian matters such as the removal of stop signs and a potential reduction in the speed limit on Nueces. Austin’s Bicycle Program Manager Annick Beaudet reaffirmed that the city was planning to remove some stop signs and that it would like to revisit a speed study after that work was completed before making a recommendation about lowing the speed limit.


“But (it) is part of the plan to study (a speed limit reduction) and look at it and strive to do so,” she noted.


Council member Bill Spelman, however, touched on the impact of the boulevard on commerce with a question about parking. “Once people got over the fears that the street was simply going to be closed off to automotive traffic…the concern that I heard most often was the reduction in parking spaces.” He then asked Beaudet to address the number of spaces that would be lost and what sort of impact that might have on business in the area.


Beaudet said that the impact on Rio Grande would be “zero to very minimal.” As for Nueces, she said that there would be “no effect” between Third and Sixth street, and between Seventh and 13th streets but that some parking would be removed between Sixth and Seventh and between 13th and Martin Luther King streets.


“We did do a parking demand study and found that…in the areas where we’re taking it off one side, that we’re leaving ample space for the demand that’s there now,” she said. “And any new development in the area will have to meet off-site parking standards per the land development code.”


“We believe that it’s a fair balance between what’s there now and predicting redevelopment into the future.”

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