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Bike Austin rallies toward transportation bond

Friday, April 29, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

More than 100 people gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon to urge City Council to focus on investments in alternatives to automobile transportation.

Hosted by Bike Austin, the rally was the latest step in the nonprofit’s effort to put a bond proposition on the November ballot that would fund $411 million worth of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

The rally was timed to occur just before Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning Commission, whose agenda featured a briefing from city staff on the ongoing Mobility Talks initiative, a public outreach campaign commissioned by Council to gather input for a possible transportation bond later this year.

“We can make this happen through a voter referendum this fall in 2016,” Bike Austin’s Miller Nuttle told the enthusiastic crowd. “Two-hundred-and-twenty miles of protected bike lanes, 50 miles of urban trails and enough money to build sidewalks within a quarter mile of every school and transit stop in Austin.”

Bike Austin rally 3

Council members Delia Garza, Pio Renteria, Ann Kitchen and Leslie Pool showed their support for multimodal options by each speaking at the rally. Daniela Nunez, Council Member Greg Casar’s Public Safety Commission appointee, said the District 4 representative couldn’t make it but sent her to speak on his behalf.

While stopping short of explicitly endorsing the idea of a bicycle and pedestrian bond on November’s ballot, Kitchen, the chair of the Council Mobility Committee, said alternatives are “critical to balancing our transportation system.”

“And that means we need to put more of our resources into bikes, into sidewalks and into trails. Whether you bike or not, if someone else is on a bike, they’re not in a car in front of you,” said Kitchen.

Garza spoke of a recent tour she took of the protected lanes in downtown Austin and the boardwalk along the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake. She said those centralized projects reminded her of the historic change from at-large to geographic representation on Council.

“Similarly, this entire city deserves that kind of infrastructure,” Garza said to thunderous applause. “It deserves the protected lanes in my neighborhood and in your neighborhood and in every neighborhood in this city.”

Garza also echoed Bike Austin’s recent “Pathways to Equity” report, which frames a robust multimodal transportation system as a means of closing Austin’s yawning chasm of opportunity. “Having more mobility options for our families creates a more affordable Austin,” said Garza.

The rally ended moments before the Planning Commission began its meeting inside the Council chambers.

The proceedings ended anticlimactically for the activists, however, since the commission’s agenda limited public comment on the Mobility Talks briefing item. After Capital Planning Officer Mike Trimble gave his brief presentation to the commission explaining that the input-gathering phase would end on May 8 and likely produce a recommendation to Council one month later, Zilker resident David King was given one minute to speak, a minute he used to advocate for funding bike, pedestrian and transit infrastructure.

Commissioner Chito Vela offered his colleagues a resolution similar to one recently passed by the Urban Transportation Commission, which recommended a bond to fund the Bicycle Master Plan, priority sidewalks and improvements on corridors in support of high-capacity transit.

“I think that, very much so, land-use planning and transportation absolutely go hand in hand,” Vela said.

However, Chair Stephen Oliver pointed out that the commission could not take any votes on the item because it was listed on the agenda only as a briefing. The earliest Vela’s proposed resolution can be put before the commission is at its next meeting on May 10.

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