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Reporter’s Notebook: Scoot on

Monday, April 23, 2018 by Austin Monitor

Much ado about scooting… As best as we can tell, the Scooter Wars hyped up on social media have largely been playing out as a sitzkrieg. Absent thus far is the oppressive sidewalk clutter – dubbed “mobility spam” by one writer – wrought by dockless bike-sharing companies on our neighbors to the north in Dallas. And while there were plenty of vocal concerns that the dockless scooters deposited on city streets by Bird and LimeBike signaled a new peril for pedestrians and a death sentence for public transit and Austin B-cycle, we can report that we witnessed people still happily using all of the above this weekend. And, like other local journalists, we have also given the scooters a little spin. Our fair and balanced verdict: While not the most dignified way to get around, they’re great fun! There’s evidence that at least Bird is ramping up its inventory in recent days, suggesting that perhaps the feared clutter and chaos could still be in the works. We suggest getting a scoot or two in soon just in case Austin ends up a shattered city of fire and blood in which warring gangs fight over the last scraps of an extinct society whose resurrection may well hinge on a road warrior searching for a righteous cause.

Compliance complaints… For those in the disability community, new guidelines under CodeNEXT might propose additional difficulties in terms of transportation. In a resolution presented at the Zoning and Platting Commission meeting on March 17, Chair Jolene Kiolbassa read: “Proposed changes in CodeNEXT have already shown that it will have unanticipated effects on accessibility for those in the disability (community), such as in the elimination of parking requirements,” which means that in certain zones, no Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking will be required. While it was previously understood that regardless of if a building did or didn’t require parking the building had to comply with all ADA regulations, including parking, Kiolbassa stated otherwise. Kiolbassa said that, according to the city attorney, that rule in fact wasn’t the case. Commissioner David King expressed concern over the repercussions of such guidelines and further voiced concern related to additional ADA matters of accessibility he felt should be addressed. He referenced those on bicycles, saying that when people with disabilities ride their bike to a business, many aren’t able to access the service via that mode of transportation. John Woodley, who spoke against removing required parking, agreed with King. He said when the city eliminates parking, people with disabilities are unable to get around. The resolution, which claimed that deleting parking in some zones eliminates ADA required parking and thereby removes access to those with disabilities, passed unanimously.

Troubled bridge over water… Though it’s not possible to be freaked out by all things at all times, “our nation’s failing infrastructure” is certainly in the rotation. This past week, City Manager Spencer Cronk came at us with data about how our city’s bridges are doing, in a memo to the mayor and City Council. The takeaway? Five bridges currently require major rehabilitation or replacement: the Redbud Trail/Emmett Shelton bridge over Lady Bird Lake, the Barton Springs Road bridge over Barton Creek, the Delwau Lane bridge over Boggy Creek, the William Cannon Drive Railroad Overpass and the Slaughter Lane Railroad Overpass. But, fear not, according to that memo: “While the 6 bridges in ‘fair’ condition have some deficiencies, they are not yet ‘structurally deficient’ overall. Their lower ranking is based on certain outdated accommodations, but these bridges are not considered a safety hazard at this time. These bridges will continue to receive routine inspection and maintenance.” For those not satisfied with that assessment, we recommend diving into the wildly thorough 25-page bridge memo (linked, again, here). And for those not satisfied by the sense of calm that comes from knowing that the city has no bridges rated poor, serious, critical, failing or failed, consider this information, also contained in the memo: “As of 2013, there are over 600,000 bridges in the United States. Approximately 30 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the federal government’s annual investment is less than two thirds of what is needed to maintain roads and bridges, and this doesn’t factor in improvements. As infrastructure deteriorates the cost of maintenance and repair increases, and the longer it takes, the higher and faster those costs rise. The Federal Highway Administration estimates it will cost $20.5 billion annually for the next 16 years to properly update existing bridges, more than 60% of what is currently being spent.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Caleb Pritchard, Sommer Brugal and Elizabeth Pagano.

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