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Bicycle Advisory Council says UT plan should not preclude safety now

Friday, February 22, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

In light of a preventable tragedy resulting in 39-year-old Anthony John Diaz losing his life from being run over by a Capital Metro bus while riding a bicycle on Monday, Jan. 28, the Bicycle Advisory Council is recommending that the University of Texas at Austin assume immediate action to make sure that it will not happen again.

Diaz was killed while riding northbound on San Jacinto Boulevard west of Darrell K. Royal Stadium on the UT campus. The university has owned the right of way along San Jacinto between East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Dean Keeton Street since the city of Austin handed it over in October 1952.

Bicycle Advisory Council alternate member and urban planner Daniel Alvarado brought the recommendation to BAC Tuesday evening for discussion and approval. A graduate of UT’s Community and Regional Planning program, Alvarado said he felt a personal responsibility to bring the item forward.

The recommendation asks UT to move forward with the immediate implementation of safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and removal of private vehicle access and on-street parking spaces. BAC Chair Kathryn Flowers stated that the street is sufficiently wide enough to implement these changes, including protected bicycle lanes running north and south, despite the corridor’s cramped appearance.

“The way vehicles are parked and the kinds of vehicles parking there, like F-350s, make it seem like there’s less space than there is,” Flowers said.

All of these goals are consistent with the university’s Campus Master Plan, adopted in May 2013, but BAC maintains that the master plan is an expensive, long-term vision that should not prevent implementation of necessary short-term solutions.

The plan envisions San Jacinto Boulevard as a major transit corridor featuring the light-rail line rejected by Austin voters in 2014 (now back in similar form in the new Project Connect Blue Line plan). It also shows 54 feet of pedestrian walk space, 12 feet for a two-way bike path and an aspirational lack of personal car lanes or on-street parking between East 21st and East 24th streets. Speaking to the Monitor after the meeting, former Council Member Chris Riley said he was concerned the plan’s ambition would cause necessary changes to be postponed.

“Any difficulty posed by that solution should not prevent them from making immediate temporary changes,” he said. “UT is long overdue in making these improvements.”

Between now and when the university is ready to begin work on San Jacinto, BAC is asking that it at least get rid of the angled parking spaces that currently exist. According to the recommendation, angled parking lowers visibility for all road users. Riley said a temporary solution could, on the other hand, allow for some parallel parking. “The only reason why you would do angle parking there is that you put a far higher priority on parking spaces than human lives.”

Because the fatality was caused by a city bus, the recommendation also asks Capital Metro to reconsider its stance on shared bicycle and bus lanes. BAC has recently taken objection to Austin Transportation’s shared bus and bicycle lane implementation on West Fifth Street. San Jacinto through the UT campus is what is generally called a “sharrow,” a normal traffic lane with a painted marking indicating bicycle traffic. Neither situation, according to BAC, is suitable for bicycle riders of all ages and abilities, the ideal outlined for San Jacinto in the 2014 Austin Bicycle Plan.

The university has previously implemented a number of the recommendations but has either reversed those decisions or failed to enforce them. Flowers noted that San Jacinto on campus is technically already supposed to be restricted to vehicle through traffic, but the restriction has been inconsistently regulated in the past five to seven years.

Former Urban Transportation Commission board member and bicycle advocate Tommy Eden also told the BAC that he remembers a time decades ago when there were bicycle lanes in both directions running along this portion of San Jacinto. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you looked real carefully in a place where there is parking now, you may be able to see where the stripes used to be.”

The recommendation passed 7-0 with BAC members Michelle LeBlanc and Louis Alcorn absent.

This story has been changed since publication to reflect the fact that previous bike lanes on San Jacinto were not separated, as was originally reported.

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