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Friday, May 6, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Bond Oversight commissioners nix bike plan recommendation

Austin’s Bond Oversight Commission on Thursday evening voted down a proposed recommendation to City Council to consider placing on the November ballot a bond that would fund bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure.

Chair Keri Burchard-Juarez, who was put on the commission by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, scheduled the special meeting at 6 p.m. in downtown Austin with the aim of pushing out a resolution for the Council Mobility Committee to consider at its next meeting on May 9.

She brought a draft proposal that included language calling for the full funding of the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan as well as high and very high priority sidewalks. Council Member Greg Casar’s appointee, Commissioner Brennan Griffin, also brought his own draft with similar language.

The projected price tag of the Bicycle Master Plan, which calls for citywide bicycle infrastructure including urban trails, is estimated at $150 million, while building out the highest-priority sidewalks near schools and transit stops is expected to cost as much as $251 million.

Six residents separately spoke in favor of funding multimodal transportation alternatives. David Falk told the commission that he braves a daily bicycle commute of 17 miles.

“I can tell you it’s not a safe environment,” Falk said. “My real passion is to see Austin be a real livable place.”

The total sum of more than $400 million proved a sticking point during the discussion, which lasted well over two hours.

Vice Chair Moses Garcia, Council Member Ann Kitchen’s appointee to the commission, also questioned whether a large bond in November would adversely affect the city’s bonding capacity in the near future.

“I want to see the bike plan funded. I want to see sidewalks funded,” Garcia said. “But there have to be trade-offs. What are we not doing by doing this? There’s going to be an opportunity cost for what we do in 2018.”

After extended back and forth among the commissioners, Burchard-Juarez set to rewriting her draft to reflect Griffin’s version as well as the concerns among her colleagues.

For Commissioner Linda Guerrero, Council Member Leslie Pool’s appointee, the lack of a strong focus on automobile projects ultimately soured her on the final draft.

“We’re just looking at only the bikes, and that’s not what I’m going to agree to. And I can just vote no and that’s OK, but I don’t think it’s fair to the citizens,” Guerrero said. “A lot of Mexicans aren’t going to be riding bikes. But they will vote for streets and bridges and other sidewalks.”

In the end, the recommendation failed on a 4-7 vote. Commissioners Kristina Hager and Sumit DasGupta joined Burchard-Juarez and Griffin in supporting it. Commissioners Guerrero, Garcia, Jay Sands, Duke Browne, Wolfgang Niedert, Santiago Rodriguez and Charles Thomas voted against the measure.

After the meeting, Burchard-Juarez told the Austin Monitor that she was “disappointed” in the result but pledged to address the concerns aired by the commissioners and bring back a revised draft at the body’s next meeting on May 18. If the commissioners approve that version, the full Council could theoretically review the recommendation in June when it’s scheduled to hear the final report of Mobility Talks, the initiative exploring public interest in transportation bond projects.

“I think the Council was looking to the Mobility Committee to be driving this process, so for us not to be able to contribute to their discussion is disappointing,” said Burchard-Juarez.

Photo by Adam Coppola [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Bike Austin: Bike Austin is a bicycle advocacy group that works to grow cycling in the community by removing barriers to cycling and encouraging the creation of infrastructure.

Bond Oversight Committee: The city’s Bond Oversight Committee ensures the efficiency and accountability bond programs implementation.

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