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Austin proposes a new angle for cyclist and pedestrian safety at railroad crossings

Thursday, January 9, 2020 by Samuel King

The Austin Transportation Department has identified several railroad crossings in need of safety improvements for cyclists and pedestrians. The findings come after a citywide review requested by City Council in September based on recommendations from the city’s pedestrian and bicycle advisory councils.

The advocates had recommended examining seven priority crossings.

Laura Dierenfield, division manager for the Austin Transportation Department, said staff looked at the crossings to see how safe they were for “people to cross, especially those on bicycles or walking, or those on personal mobility devices or assisted mobility devices.”

Of the seven crossings, four will have improvements paid for by funding from the 2016 mobility bond. Dierenfield said part of the focus will be how cyclists approach those crossings.

The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ standards, often considered a national measuring stick, recommends a perpendicular approach, rather than diagonal. The city found many of the crossings fell short of that 90-degree standard.

“As you approach any sort of longitudinal crack, you want to approach that at or near 90, to avoid falling or losing your balance,” Dierenfield said.

She said the department wants to make crossings like Rosewood, Stassney and Lamar near Airport Boulevard as close to 90 degrees as possible.

The city will be looking for public input on some of the crossings, including Stassney Lane and Rosewood Avenue near North Pleasant Valley Road. The crossing at Vinson Drive near St. Elmo Road is being looked at as part of a larger Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization study. CAMPO is exploring what to do with an abandoned rail line, known as the Bergstrom Spur, which runs from Vinson Drive to U.S. Highway 183 near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

The crossing at West Mary Street near Evergreen Avenue was recently improved, so no new projects are being recommended.

ATD will coordinate with the Public Works Department to determine whether short-term improvements can be made to Guadalupe and Fourth streets in downtown Austin. Safety concerns there include poor pavement and remnant railroad tracks that create an uneven surface.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs/KUT.

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