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Travis County revives Bicycle Safety Task Force

Thursday, January 22, 2015 by Mark Richardson

Travis County is looking to revive its Bicycle Safety Task Force, which has been dormant since before voters approved funding for bicycle safety projecta in a 2011 bond election. The task force — which is getting several new stakeholders and advisers — will make recommendations on what bicycle safety programs to put on which roadways in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Steve Manilla, county executive for the Transportation and Natural Resources Department, told Travis County Commissioners Tuesday that officials put the task force on hold in 2011 shortly before voters approved $3.3 million to fund bicycle safety programs in all four of the county’s precincts. Travis County has close to 100 miles of hike-and-bike trails, along with numerous roads that have, or could have, bicycle lanes or similar improvements.

“As we approached the 2011 bond referendum, the task force went into sleep mode not knowing what was going to come out of the election,” Manilla said. “It was successful, and we tried to start the task force later after the bond referendum. As we were preparing to do that, the internal staff involved had identified some questions on how the funds that were approved in the bond referendum for bike safety could be used.”

Manilla said his staff researched the answers to a number of legal and budget questions regarding how the bond funds may be spent, giving task force members some guidelines to make recommendations.

The Travis County task force was designed to augment Austin’s 2007 Street Smarts Task Force final report, which is a vision to “transform Austin into a world-class bicycling city.” Manilla said the county task force would make a set of recommendations with an eye toward safety on county roads.

Spending on bicycle- and pedestrian-related projects appears to be mostly an Austin and Travis County preference. In November, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board — led by a group of rural counties — voted to dilute a long-standing policy to dedicate 15 percent of transportation projects in the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan to bicycle and pedestrian lanes. The 15 percent set-aside is no longer a considered a CAMPO mandate, but is now just a goal.

“First is a list of safety improvements for popular bike routes in unincorporated areas,” Manilla said. “Second is to develop a list of bike projects for completing gaps in existing bikeway networks and for completing entirely new bikeways that would probably be projects that we would put forward for our future bond referendum. Finally, we would ask them to take a look at design policy.”

The $3.3 million in bond funds was initially planned to be distributed among all four precincts, but there was a suggestion from Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gómez that the county consider one large project that might cover parts of all four sectors.

“Planning for how the entire county is tied together through a trail system is a great idea,” Manilla said. “Very costly and could take many years, but we can get started on it. This is a nice amount of funds to get started in that direction.”

He added that some projects might be started with the 2011 bond funds but completed with funds from a future bond election.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty wondered whether the money would be better spent on road or trails.

“Has there ever been a survey or a study done that identifies whether bicycling is participated in more on trails or on roads?” Daugherty asked. “That’s always an interesting question for me because I don’t really know where to put the money. I mean, in Precinct 3, they’re on roads because we don’t have a lot of trails, unless they want to take their mountain bike out to Reimers (Ranch Park) or something.”

Manilla said that when it comes to bike riders, families and casual riders tend to gravitate toward the county’s trail system, while the more serious riders, who are likely to bike dozens, if not hundreds, of miles a day will do their riding on roadways.

Stakeholders named to the Bicycle Safety Task Force include Erick Benz, Austin Cycling Association/Bike Austin; Andrew Willis, Texas Bicycle Racing Association/Holland Racing, LLC; Laura Dierenfield, Austin Active Transportation project manager; James Murff, 787Racing/Team Brain & Spine Cycling/ League of Bicycling Voters; and Joe Gieselman, former TNR executive manager and avid cyclist.

Proposed advisers include Preston Tyree, bike safety expert, League American Bicyclist, TX Bicycle Coalition; Tom Wald, Bike Austin; and Chad Crager, Austin Community Services, Bicycle & Urban Trail program manager.

TNR’s Public Works Director Morgan Cotten will be the staff adviser to the task force.

There was no information on when the task force will meet.

(This story was updated Jan. 23 to clarify the affiliations of some of the stakeholders and advisers to the task force.)


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