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New bikeways earn Austin a spot among best bike cities in 2020

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Austin has landed a spot in the top 20 best cities for bicycling in a recent survey by the U.S-based bike advocacy group PeopleForBikes.

The city received an overall score of 3.0 out of 5, tying with Los Angeles, Detroit and New Orleans while securing the 20th spot on a list of 567 North American cities. Although Austin’s bike network did not even make the top 300, the amount of relatively new bike infrastructure earned the city 4.1 points in the “acceleration” category, the sixth-highest score.

“We’re thrilled to be recognized for the accelerated efforts we’ve taken to meet the moment for Austin’s mobility future,” Robert Spillar, director of the Austin Transportation Department, said in a release Tuesday. “The 2016 Mobility Bond has made it possible to work citywide to address our sidewalk, urban trail and bikeway network, and make those networks better support child safety to and from school and transit service as well.”

Last year, the department completed over 30 trail and bikeway projects as part of its work funded through the mobility bond. As of April this year, the department has spent $4.9 million of the bond’s $26 million dedicated to urban trails, $3.8 million of the $20 million allotted for bikeways and $4.4 million of the $27.5 million for safe walking and biking routes to school.

Those recent network expansions were enough to place Austin above cities like Boulder that have far more complete bike networks or cities such as Seattle that have much higher ridership levels. For example, despite Boulder’s overall score of 2.4, it was given 4 points under the survey’s Bicycle Network Analysis, a data-based street-by-street measurement of the network’s comfort, safety and utility. Austin, by contrast, earned only 1 point under the raw network analysis.

“Because scoring is based on many dynamic data sources, a city’s score can change year-to-year,” states the PeopleForBikes FAQ. “Earning recognition one year doesn’t guarantee the same level of recognition the following year. It is incumbent on cities to keep working to improve bicycling.”

Once weighed against community perceptions, Austin earned 1.4 points for its network, 1.9 points for the network’s physical reach into the community, 2.3 points for ridership levels (boosted by higher numbers of recreational versus commuter rides), and 2.6 points for safety.

The city took a hit to its network and safety scores due to its current standard residential 30 mph speed limit, which the report indicates is above the 25 mph threshold that keeps stress levels low for people cycling in car traffic. Next year, however, that score may improve if City Council approves a proposed speed management program on Thursday that would establish a 25 mph speed limit on most residential and downtown streets.

Council will also be considering a resolution with direction to install temporary protected bicycle lanes on Congress Avenue between Riverside Drive and the Texas Capitol building in response to Covid-19. Like the city’s Healthy Streets active transportation initiative, this initiative also allows for a permanent solution when social distancing is no longer necessary.

Last week, Council approved an agreement with the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Bike Share of Austin for co-management of a MetroBike program that would integrate the city’s B-cycle system into the public transit network while adding more bikes and stations and converting the fleet to electric-assist bikes.

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