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UT meets with advocates, talks bike safety on San Jacinto

Friday, May 31, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

Representatives of the University of Texas are promising ongoing discussions of safety and mobility improvements to its section of San Jacinto Boulevard, where 39-year-old Tony Diaz was recently killed while riding a bicycle.

Director of Sustainability Jim Walker and President Gregory Fenves’ chief of staff Carlos Martinez met with a small group of bicycle advocates on Tuesday, May 21, to discuss ways to fast-track safety improvements on the corridor.

Bicycle advocacy and policy groups began putting pressure on the university immediately following the fatal collision in late January. At its February meeting, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Council passed a recommendation requesting immediate action from the university. Several weeks later, local advocacy group Bike Austin sent a letter featuring dozens of signatures from individuals and organizations pressing for safe bicycle facilities on San Jacinto.

Sitting down with former City Council member and Bike Austin President Chris Riley, BAC Chair Kathryn Flowers and BAC alternate Curtis Rogers, Walker and Martinez expressed interest in studying possible short-term safety solutions with an eye toward UT’s long-term plans for San Jacinto and upcoming renovations to Red River Street to the east.

As a consolation, Martinez said UT’s future plans to relocate Red River as part of its replacement of the Erwin Center already include delineated bike lanes. In the meantime, he said, the university is “seriously evaluating solutions” for San Jacinto.

As was pointed out by the BAC recommendation, UT’s own 2013 Campus Master Plan depicts the relevant section of San Jacinto with a separated cycle track, widened sidewalks, transit-only traffic lanes, and eliminated on-street parking.

“While the university is constantly looking for opportunities to improve safety for all modes, we began reevaluating our San Jacinto plans earlier this year after Tony Diaz’s fatality,” Martinez said.

In an email, Riley told the Monitor that while Martinez isn’t yet ready to commit to protected bike lanes for San Jacinto, Walker believes plans for the corridor will be updated to consider bicycle safety following the ongoing input process.

Martinez said UT will be evaluating the corridor this summer with these conversations in mind.

“The reevaluation aims to improve the safety and efficiency of mobility for pedestrians, cyclists, transit and the other needs of the campus community,” he said. “The guiding principles of that evaluation include improvements to pedestrian safety, better transit stops for traffic safety and adding bike facilities for cyclist safety.”

Following the meeting, Martinez thanked the three advocates for bringing their passion to the discussion and proposed the group meet again in late June.

Due to a string of scheduling conflicts, the five were able to settle on a follow-up meeting on Wednesday, July 24. In addition to the private discussion, Walker said he would visit BAC for a public update no later than its Aug. 20 meeting.

Photo by Aleksandr Zykov from Russia [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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