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Austin Transportation releases yearly report

Monday, June 3, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin Transportation Department released its annual report for 2018 on Friday, featuring a month-by-month breakdown of its major accomplishments from last year as well as an overview of its $52 million in operating budget spending.

The report highlights five major intersection safety projects, each funded by the 2016 Mobility Bond at an average cost of roughly $1 million each, completed between May and December. The intersection projects aimed to improve safety through installation of turn lanes and upgraded traffic signals, and by further delineating pedestrian and bicycle facilities using paint and other materials.

The department began the year with a $2.2 million initiative for improvements to pedestrian crossings in January. In addition to making sure each pedestrian crossing is equipped with both visible and audible crossing countdowns, the funding went toward installing accessible crossing signals in 26 locations and placing traffic-halting walk signals (pedestrian hybrid beacons) at five pedestrian crossings where there are no traffic signals.

In February the department introduced the $1.4 billion Construction Corridor Program which was then approved by City Council in April 2018. City staff is now completing design and engineering for each of the program’s nine major corridors.

The report also highlights the department’s efforts to finalize the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan in 2018 leading up to its adoption early this year. The department took the plan to the public, issuing an online ASMP survey in March for community feedback and releasing the ASMP draft policies for public comment in October followed by the draft maps in November.

While the report indicates only 3.12 percent of the department’s budget went toward active transportation in 2018, the report notes several improvements to the city’s bicycling community. Through the course of the year, the department calculates 25.8 miles of new and improved bicycle facility projects added to the streets.

The department teamed up with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in December for a multimodal project on West Fifth Street, replacing a narrow bike lane with a wider shared lane for buses and bikes for five blocks west of North Lamar Boulevard. The project features signal priority for bikes and buses at Baylor Street, saving an average of five minutes for each bus. While the Bicycle Advisory Council has criticized the project as unsafe for cyclists, the department considers the project an improvement for both transit and cyclists.

Besides the projects on the streets, the department also launched an online interactive version of the city’s bicycle map in March, where cyclists can plan routes based on safety ratings and provide feedback on bicycle facilities.

The department also explored new technologies in line with the city’s Smart Mobility Program last year. The city joined the OmniAir Consortium in March with the purpose of developing standards for testing connected and automated vehicles. Then, in October, the city became the first in Texas to enter the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Signal Phasing and Timing Challenge by installing dedicated short-range communication technology at several intersections. The devices would allow connected vehicles to communicate with a traffic signal controller with real-time information.

With new dockless mobility services arriving on the scene early last year, the department began preparing in April with a series of open-house style meetings to discuss the future of dockless bikes and scooters in Austin. The city began accepting applications for dockless operator permits in early May, paving the way for the thousands of dockless units on the streets today.

The report also notes the significance of the department’s open data and performance online portal published in May, giving the public easy access to information about signal operations and other relevant transportation information.

While the department is aiming to boost alternative transportation modes, it also drastically expanded its Affordable Parking Program for hospitality and service industry workers last year. The program now offers over 7,000 off-street parking spaces in 29 garages, mostly in the downtown area for use after normal business hours at affordable monthly rates.

Last year was also a victory for the department’s projects moving forward, securing $160 million for transportation infrastructure when voters passed Proposition G in November.

Photo by Tony Webster made available through a Creative Commons license.

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