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Austin Transportation announces plans for three new Healthy Streets for safe active mobility

Tuesday, July 14, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

Over the next two weeks, the Austin Transportation Department will set up sawhorses and signage for three new Healthy Streets corridors for the second batch of the program, adding to the city’s five existing street segments for socially distanced active transportation.

The five miles of new Healthy Streets include Avenue G between 38th and 56th streets, Belfast Drive from Broadmoor Drive to Cameron Road, and a string of South Austin residential streets between William Cannon Drive and Slaughter Lane.

Each of the segments was included in the department’s interactive map and feedback tool of six proposed Healthy Streets posted in late June. In the weeks since posting the street proposals for the second batch, the department received a total of 525 comments of support, opposition and suggested changes.

After enduring a controversial public engagement process the first time around, Transportation Director Robert Spillar decided to prioritize the public outreach process for the second batch. When selecting the three new slow streets from the six candidates, the department weighed comments from the public against technical planning considerations.

Although only 68 of 500-plus comments were opposed to the proposed streets, 50 comments expressed concerns and offered suggested changes for the city to consider.

The department also discussed its plans with local businesses and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, leading to the decision to trim the 2.5 mile Avenue F north-south project and move it one block east onto Avenue G. Rather than extending north across Koenig Lane to Skyview Road, the slow street will now end at 51st Street.

The new alignment was chosen to minimize potential conflicts with accessing local businesses, but many residents noted the need for safety improvements at major intersections like 45th Street, 51st Street and Koenig Lane to make walking or biking the street safe for everyone. According to a Monday release from the department, the Avenue G alignment allows for more visible intersection crossings while eliminating the particularly high-speed crossing at Koenig Lane.

The overwhelming majority of online comments supported the proposal, citing strong demand for safe walking and biking and a lack of sidewalks and bike lanes in the neighborhood. A few residents, however, expressed concern about the potential increase in foot and bicycle traffic.

“I worry about the foot/bike traffic this would bring to our street,” one resident wrote. “I think simply adding sidewalks would be enough. I think having all of the Hyde Park area parading down one street doesn’t sound like a great idea for social distancing.”

With a lack of sidewalk connectivity in many areas of South Austin, most online comments were in strong support of the initiative between Slaughter Lane and William Cannon Drive. A number of comments also noted the potential for a future connection between the new section and the existing Healthy Street at Garden Villa Lane, creating a continuous north-south active transportation corridor.

Some residents, however, stated concerns that the new South Austin project may limit access to Kocurek Elementary School and create complications for the Capital Metro local bus route 103, which serves residents along overlapping stretches of Seminary Ridge Drive and Curlew Drive. Other residents objected to the plan out of simple preference for private car traffic over other modes of transportation.

As a whole, online comments were in strong support of the north-south connection on Belfast Drive in Windsor Park. Several comments mentioned the potential to use the slow street as a starting point for an eventual pedestrian and bicycle bridge connection from the neighborhood to Mueller Boulevard across 51st Street.

The Transportation Department will continue to make monthly announcements on Healthy Streets proposals as the pandemic drags on and social distancing continues to be necessary. In the meantime, community members may still provide feedback on existing Healthy Streets or suggest new ones on the department’s website.

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